Sunday, December 31

Death Penalty Paradox

Saddam Hussein has been executed. Few could argue that he didn't deserve it -- but here's an interesting exercise for classroom discussion, or for yourself:
1. Assume you believe that under certain circumstances, for certain crimes, the death penalty is warranted;
2. Accept that Saddam Hussein was guilty of capital crimes worthy of the death penalty beyond the shadow of any doubt;
3. Is it possible to argue that Hussein should not have been executed?

The great Israeli intellectual and scholar of kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, made just such an arguement regarding Adolf Eichmann:
...the application of the death penalty to Eichmann constituted an inappropriate ending. It falsified the historical significance of the trial by creating the illusion that it is possible to conclude something of this affair by the hanging of one human or inhumane creature. Such an illusion is most dangerous because it may engender the feeling that something has been done to atone for the unatonable... As Jews and as human beings we have no interest in such a phony "finis."

Click here for full essay, from his collection On Jews and Judaism in Crisis. The oroginal is follwed by one of his scathing letters to Hannah Arendt (see here for background).


At 3:07 PM, Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

Yes but in the Sadam Hussein issue, the individual STILL poses a danger to Iraqi society in particular, and perhaps beyond the Iraqi borders as well. In this case it might be prudent to eliminate an individual who could be a rallying point for further violent resistance.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Uri Cohen said...

Interesting source. Thanks!


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