Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke at the London School of Economics today and surprised the audience with his comments on the application of the death penalty for the 9/11 plotters held at Guantanamo Bay. Given the administration’s support of the death penalty, they probably expected Mukasey to offer the usual justifications for it, especially for terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Mukasey argued instead that the US should not give them the martyrdom they seek, but rather a lifetime of obscure captivity:
U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Friday he hoped the six Guantanamo prisoners charged with the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington would not receive the death penalty.
Speaking at the London School of Economics, Mukasey said the death penalty would allow the six, including the self-confessed commander of al Qaeda’s foreign military operations, to portray themselves as victims.
“I hope they don’t get the death penalty — they would see themselves as martyrs,” Mukasey said in response to questions at a talk on Anglo-American law enforcement.
Readers at Hot Air may not know it, but I oppose the death penalty — for normal criminal justice. In my opinion, the justice system makes too many mistakes and the application of the death penalty is too skewed along racial and gender lines to be just, let alone be perceived as justice. It makes martyrs out of people like Mumia Abu Jamal and Stanley “Tookie” Williams, who otherwise would have to rot for their crimes over an entire lifetime — and whose victims would not have to fight for decades before seeing their cases come to closure.
However, I do not oppose it for those who make war on the United States. If we catch Osama bin Laden, I’d volunteer to flip the switch, drop the trap door, or perform the injection. The same is true for those who plotted the 9/11 attacks, and the Khobar Towers bombing, the USS Cole attack, and the bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. They made themselves the enemy of our nation, and that comes with the biggest price tag of them all.
That doesn’t mean Mukasey doesn’t have a point. Most of these terrorists, with the possible exception of KSM, entered into this business with the hope of dying at the hands of the enemy, not rotting in prison for 60 years. They want a quick death, followed by a reception in a heaven where women are chattel for their sexual amusement. Without a martyr’s death, they not only will be denied a martyr’s afterlife but be guaranteed a long and miserable existence where they can only see the sun one hour a day. Most of these terrorists are young, and with proper medical care, they could live for decades.
Is there really a fate worse than death? Absolutely, especially for these lunatics. And that, strangely enough, may create more of a deterrent than hanging or lethal injection. If terrorists discover that capture means not a martyr’s death but a literally interminable prison sentence, the jihad may lose some of its luster. Zacarias Moussaoui received a life sentence for his role in al-Qaeda, and as the judge put it, he will “die with a whimper.”
Should we put these mass-murdering maniacs to death? Or should we deny them that which they desire above all, and have them die whimpering as wasted old men, forgotten by all but their jailers? I have to admit, it’s a tough choice.
Update (AP): I addressed this question last year vis-a-vis the blind sheikh, Omar Abdul Rahman, who’s doing life for his role in the first WTC bombing. If Mukasey means that we should deny them death to deny Al Qaeda the propaganda tool of declaring them martyrs, that argument’s shot; follow the link and you’ll see why. If he means that we should deny them death to deny them the gratification of their fondest wish, this atheist has no qualms with giving the people what they want. Send them to the void. Life in prison’s no fun, but it’s something.
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