Close window  |  View original article

Muhammad Meets His Maker

Executing felons is both just and moral.

By Petrarch  |  November 18, 2009

The remembrance of Veteran's Day and mourning for the victims of Muslim treason at Ft. Hood diluted its impact, but another terrorist met his Maker last week:

John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind of the sniper attacks that terrorised the US capital region for three weeks in 2002, was executed earlier this morning.

During the anxious days of the "Beltway Sniper", I frequently visited the region on business.  Whenever I'd fly in, my wife would express concern that I might be the next unsuspecting victim - never mind the millions of non-victims in the area and the far higher probability of being squashed like a bug in DC's notorious traffic.  Everyone was fearful because there was no rhyme nor reason to the killings - the victims and the locations seem to have been entirely random.

Muhammad was a terrorist by any definition: he attacked civilian targets, terrorized millions, and spread panic far and wide.  Rumors flew: a white van was spotted driving away from a murder site!  Don't go out in the open if there's a white van around!

How many tens of thousands of white vans must there be?  How many white van drivers were hassled without result?  Nobody noticed the ordinary-looking sedan the killers actually used.

But then, nobody was looking for a pair of black male converts to Islam.  At the time, the FBI's vaunted profiles said the suspect had to be a white man.  Why?  Because all serial killers are white!  Oops.

Oddly enough, Muhammad's appointment with the Grim Reaper was not marked by the customary candlelight vigils and anti-death-penalty protests; even liberals get vengeful when they've been scared out of their wits.  Which makes it a good time to talk about the death penalty and why we need far, far more of it.

The Deterrent Argument

Most pro-death-penalty debaters like to say that executing criminals deters other would-be criminals from committing crimes.  It makes a certain logical sense: if doing something may lead to your death, most people won't do it.

Indeed, the statistics support this position.

The trouble is, for deterrents to work, justice must be seen to be done.  John Muhammad terrorized millions and was arrested soon after his crimes, yet he lived for seven more years.  Justice delayed is justice denied; there's no reason why any criminal case should take more than a few months, maybe a year.  President McKinley's assassin was executed within two months, but that was back in 1901, a time when we still believed in individual responsibility and in imposing consequences for crimes.

Under the Constitution, accused criminals have rights and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.  That's as it should be; but we've gone way too far in allowing endless delays and countless appeals.  Prompt justice, one appeal; then, if you can't present some astonishing malfeasance or shocking new evidence, that should be it.

The vast majority of murderers are neither arrested nor convicted; the vast majority of those convicted are ultimately released, free to kill again.  What sort of deterrent is the death penalty if you're more likely to win the Megabucks than wind up frying in the Chair?

We know that private penalties work - when Bernhard Goetz shot back at the gang who tried to mug him on the subway and bagged four of the thugs, subway muggings dropped and stayed down for months.  Only our government is able to render capital punishment relatively ineffective.

The Sword of Vengeance

Another reason sometimes given for the death penalty is that it allows society to demonstrate its harshest disapproval for the most depraved crimes.  In this argument, executing the murderer makes society feel better and provides a sense of closure for the victims' relatives.

Alas, this argument carries in itself its own weakness: is it truly ethical to terminate somebody's life in order to make you feel better?  Put that way, the death penalty sounds immoral, which of course is what its opponents want you to think.

What liberals hate to admit is that vengeance is not simply about your feelings.  One of the ways in which human beings are distinct from animals is that we have a concept of "justice."

Lions don't consider whether it is "just" to kill the weakest gazelle; they just do it and feast.  The healthy gazelles don't fret about whether it's fair to leave their handicapped relatives behind as lion chow; they just want to keep their own skins safe.  Throughout most of the animal kingdom, the only "altruistic" actions are those of mothers and occasional fathers defending their young, which can easily be explained in genetic and evolutionary terms.

As humans, though, we do have an abstract concept of Lady Justice.  Something is not right simply because you can get away with it; you can be an evil, wrong person even if you never get caught and never pay any price for your depravity.

In evolutionary terms, this makes no sense, but this view of justice is common to all viable human societies throughout all of history.  Even young children haven an innate sense of justice - "It's not fair!" - though oftimes it's insufficiently developed as to be accurate.  But they know it exists nevertheless.

It is not just for one individual to be able to wrongfully take the life of another without paying the severest penalty.  Even in our liberal society of today, the ordinary person recoils on hearing of a brutal murderer being let free to walk the streets after only a few years behind bars - even when that murderer is released at the other end of the country and there's little to no chance that you personally will ever encounter him.

Self Defense - For Society as for Individuals

That brings us to the most powerful, but rarely heard, reason why capital punishment is essential: Even as individual human beings have a right to self-defense, so has society.  By terminating the lives of those who show no respect for the lives of others, society as a whole defends itself from monsters.

Consider the infamous Willie Horton.  Mr. Horton was a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without parole in the state of Massachusetts.

Thanks to the policies of the liberal Democratic governor Michael Dukakis, however, Massachusetts decided that even the most monstrous felons deserved a vacation from the pen and started permitting weekend "furloughs."  Lifers were set free to roam the streets and breathe the free air on Saturday and Sunday, but come Monday morning, it was back to the slammer!

The end result would be obvious even to a child: if you are already serving a life prison term in a state that doesn't do capital punishment, what possible additional punishment could you get?  In effect, these furloughed killers had a free pass to do whatever they pleased, and that's exactly what Mr. Horton did: while out on "furlough," he committed assault, armed robbery, and rape.

Mr. Horton had already been convicted of murder.  He was known to be a killer; he was proven guilty in a court of law.  There is no reason whatsoever why he should ever again have seen the light of day; yet thanks to bleeding-heart liberalism, he did, and a woman was raped as a result.

He is guilty of that rape, but Gov. Dukakis and the Massachusetts legislature bear a heavy burden of guilt as well - at least, the American people decided as much, and kept Dukakis out of the White House.

The government of Massachusetts failed in its first duty to its citizens: to protect them from enemies foreign and domestic.  If a government can't protect people from criminals, why have a government at all?

Of course no government can stop all crime, but at least known criminals can be stopped.  We hear about "reforming" prisoners - but the recidivism rates show that truly reformed ex-convicts are few and far between.  The Department of Justice reports that more than two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years and around half end up right back in jail.

Not every crime deserves a "throw away the key" response.  Murder, rape, armed robbery - in other words, felonies - do.  By releasing known violent criminals instead of executing them, the government issues a death sentence for their innocent victims yet to come.  It's simple common sense: a dead murderer can't kill anybody else, whereas a live one most likely will.

To be precise: studies show that each executed murderer saves the lives of five innocents, and each commutation of a convicted criminal's sentence costs five lives.  Five innocent lives, which the state has the power to protect, and chooses not to.

John Muhammad's rampage of terror was stopped only by his arrest and incarceration; it's now been permanently stopped by his demise.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan of Ft. Hood infamy was stopped, for now, by a bullet; will he be stopped permanently?

The use of deadly force is government's ultimate power of protection; that's why soldiers kill our enemies.  In peace in our own land, we have the luxury of lawyers, judges, and trials to determine who is guilty.  Once that's been accomplished and the guilty party proved "beyond reasonable doubt," a murderer has no right to live.

Keeping murderers alive is neither merciful nor civilized; on the contrary, it's a barbaric decision that the life of a monster is worth more than the lives of five innocents.

The death of John Muhammad should be celebrated.  Maj. Hasan should receive the same penalty; so should the countless other killers who are currently rotting in prison or, God forbid, out on the streets stalking their next victims.

The death penalty isn't cruel; what's truly cruel is that executing criminals has become so unusual.