As the U.S. Army waits to formally charge Major Nidal Hasan with murder, another Muslim, former U.S. Army member was executed last night for the nation’s first act of domestic terrorism in the wake of the attacks of September 11th. Yesterday Virginia governor Tim Kaine refused to stay the execution of John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. Sniper who with 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo went on a shooting spree in the Fall of 2002 that left 10 people dead.
Do I believe in the death penalty? Possibly. Do I think Mahammad should be put to death? Absolutely. Because he is the most heinous of criminals, and that is the maximum penalty that the law allows in the state of Virginia.
It is surprising to me that anyone would have an objection to Mahammad’s execution. In the 7 years since the shootings he has shown absolutely no remorse for his actions, was said to be defiant in the face of death, and thus there has never been any potential for rehabilitating the man. What is the point of exhausting resources prolonging his life?
This is the very root of the argument set before the Supreme Court this week as they review Roper v. Simmons, the 2005 case that banned capital punishment for juveniles. Deciding that sentencing minors to death constitutes cruel and unusual punishment only set up the dilemma; so what is so humane about exiling people to a prison cell and throwing away the key?
In Canada the death penalty has been abolished in Canada since 1976 (ironically at the same time capital punishment was resumed in the U.S. ) and replaced with a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole of 25 years for all first-degree murders. Canadians have been paying for it ever since. Baring special circumstances for egregious offenders, a person in Canada can be released from prison for murder after 15 years of a sentence served – and that doesn’t even mean the offender need be fully rehabilitated, they simply need to demonstrate a acceptable level of good behavior.
Even if complete rehabilitation were possible – if you could dedicate complete attention to changing behavior – I question the worth of attempting this for persons like Robert Pickton, Clifford Olson, William Fyfe.
If a country operates without the death penalty then it better dedicate the attention and resources to giving a good faith effort to rehabilitation and restorative justice, not just pay lip service to the idea. In 33 years Canada has done little to suggest it is capable of offender rehabilitation in even the mildest of cases. And when you factor in the costs of a true effort toward rehabilitation of criminals ( not the crappy efforts put forth by justice rehab in the cases of Anthony Sowell and Phillip Garrido) no cost benefit analysis could ever argue that putting a man to death is more expensive than keeping them alive.
Before Americans go any further with death penalty moratoriums, they should look long and hard at the
bad example of Canada; and they better have a solid plan as to what they will do with the worst offenders as they linger in our prisons for the rest of their lives.