GLOVER COLUMN: Kill the death penalty

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2007

The execution of Saddam Hussein has garnered a lot of attention in the days following his death. Sunnis, the religions minority of Iraq and the sect that benefited the most from Hussein’s rule, were outraged at the camera phone video of his execution. As well they should be.

Hussein was by no means a saint, yet one has to admit that the methodology behind the execution by the new Iraqi government left a lot to be desired. Hussein was whisked away from the U.S. military’s detention center in a helicopter and turned over to Iraqi control at the behest of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Hussein had lost his appeal of the execution in a court ruling Tuesday but still had a 30-day window to lodge a final appeal. Maliki decided that the loss of the appeal was final and that security issues, worries that insurgents would free Hussein or that mass kidnappings would ensue in an attempt to trade for Hussein, overrode the final appeal. Therefore, Hussein’s death by hanging was bumped up.

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The loss at a final appeal, however fruitless, was a violation of Hussein’s rights, and I believe human rights violations were the basis for Hussein’s trail in the first place.

Then, at his execution, the video showed Shiite Muslim guards and witnesses taunting Hussein. I don’t care how bad a person is, the moments before their death should not be a time of taunting, not to mention that it likely made him feel justified in his actions toward and treatment of the Shiite.

The entire series of events appeared like western mob justice. You know it is bad situation and handled extremely poorly when the U.S. government tries to distance itself from the execution of Hussein as they have, saying that they implored Maliki to reconsider and continue the allotted appeal process.

The whole episode reeks of injustice, but are not all executions in some way or another an injustice?

It seemed that Hussein’s execution was a form of revenge and retribution for his actions toward the Shiites, which it may well have been. And maybe all executions are a form of retribution. Bt if so is that right?

It seems that people should be punished for their actions not have revenge taken out on them by society. Is the execution not in some sense the legalized murder of an individual? Is it not a perversion that people come, want and sometimes enjoy watching the death of someone they revile for their previous actions?

Many will say that certain people deserve to die for their actions and that may be true. But who should be entrusted with that decision? A jury of one’s peers? Does such a thing really exist? Would a murder’s peers see murder as a crime?

That may be getting off the subject so let’s look at the countries that decide that legalized execution is wrong and have done away with it. All members of the European Union and the Council of Europe are required to do away with capital punishment. Most members of the organizations have completely done away with the practice, and those that still have the laws for execution on the books are required to abstain from enforcing them whole members. The large majority of democratic countries in Latin America and the Pacific Islands – including Australia and New Zealand – have also done away with the practice.

The United States, Guatemala, most Caribbean Islands, and some democracies in Asia and Africa retain their use of capital punishment, however, along with many, but not all, undemocratic countries in the world. Is that the crowd we want to run with?

While the United States, which had 60 executions in 2005, is no China in the world of capital punishment, a country that in 2004 topped the list of most executions with 3,400 (90 percent of the reported executions in the world that year), it is no slouch. With Singapore having the highest execution per capita, at 70 executions to its population of 4 million, one wonders what the United States ranks.

That isn’t to say that all residents of the United States, or all states in the United States for that matter, agree with the death penalty, but quite a few do. And more states are coming to the conclusion to get rid of it as time passes.

In 1849 the Roman Republic became the first country to completely outlaw capital punishment in its constitution. Venezuela followed in 1963 and Portugal in 1867.

The state of Michigan beat them all when it banned the death penalty March 1, 1847. Michigan has stood by its ban and no execution has taken place in the state for 160 years. It is considered the first democracy in recorded history to do so.

Why shouldn’t the rest of the country follow suit. The appeal process for death row inmates and the executions themselves cost much more than life imprisonment. It seems that capital punishment has not been much a deterrent to crime in the United States and there is a growing amount of evidence that executions are cruel and unusual punishment. Let them sit in jail and reflect until they die of natural causes. Let God take care of the punishment.

Brandon Glover is a staff writer with The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to

or by phone to 334-289-4017.