Monday, February 11, 2008

Death Penalty For 9/11 Suspects? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

The Associated Press is reporting today that Pentagon officials have announced their intent to seek capital punishment against six terror suspects who are alleged to have instigated the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. Included in the six is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.

It is a colossal mistake.

The morality issue of the death penalty aside, the men will be tried within the military tribunal system that was set up by the Bush administration. The system, though approved by Congress, has been widely criticized for its rules on legal representation for suspects, hearings behind closed doors and past allegations of inmate abuse at Guantanamo.

Don’t misunderstand where I’m coming from. The crimes of September 11, 2001 rank among the most heinous in United States history and the callous disregard for human life that they displayed certainly could put them in the higher echelons of global atrocities. It’s just that there is little upside to executing the perpetrators.

1) Something with a penalty as final as an execution should only be conducted when the accused is in possession of his/her full legal rights. In this case, it should be the full rights to which someone accused of a capital crime in the U.S. criminal system would be entitled. To do anything less is unworthy of the United States.

2) Executing the perpetrators is unlikely to serve as a deterrent, but rather as a rallying point. Nothing resonates more with fanatics than martyrs. They inspire the faithful and move those who are neutral to action. In short, it makes execution a stupid strategy.

3) It's too damn easy. While I am a death penalty opponent on moral grounds, I am also a pro-life in prison advocate on punitive grounds. In the case of al Qaida members, I don't believe that death is a particularly big fear. A long life in an American prison, being held by your fellow inmates with the same regard as a child rapist, now that's something to lose sleep over. Hell, I'd go so far as to build a prison with the rubble of the World Trade Center and wallpaper each cell with photos of the victims and their families.

Don't think that would get to them? I’m not so sure . . .

But thanks to the old testament style of the Bush Administration, we'll manage to create icons for future terrorists, fail to live up to our principles as a nation and let the perpetrators off the hook easily. There’s a trifecta of which we can all be proud.

Like cigarettes, super-sized Big Mac meals and reality T.V., this course of action may feel good in the moment, but assuredly, it will come back to bite us in the collective ass.