Better late than never? Charles Krauthammer’s column from last week on the execution of Saddam Hussein is an example:
Of the 6 billion people on this Earth, not one killed more people than Saddam Hussein. And not just killed but tortured and mutilated — doing so often with his own hands and for pleasure. It is quite a distinction to be the preeminent monster on the planet. If the death penalty was ever deserved, no one was more richly deserving than Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Krauthammer makes excellent points about all of it, the execution, the Iraqi government, and our mistakes. But this is not the meat of his essay for me. This is:
True, Hussein’s hanging was just and, in principle, nonsectarian. But the next hanging might not be. Breaking precedent completely undermines the death penalty provision, opening the way to future revenge and otherwise lawless hangings.
Let me rewrite that in terms that, unless he’s changed his tune, I doubt Mr. Krauthammer would agree with. Consider:
True, the enemy combatant’s torture was just and, in principle, nonsectarian. But the next torture might not be. Breaking precedent completely undermines the Geneva Conventions, opening the way to future revenge and otherwise lawless torture.
How is Mr. Krauthammer’s statement logical and mine illogical? They’re the same because justice and the rule of law should be supreme. Whether or not someone deserves a specific punishment is sometimes open for debate. But breaking precedent is a terrible idea, given the clear line of increasing abuses that result. History has taught us this, which is why we’ve fought hard to eliminate these from our system of justice, both civil and military. We must not surrender the moral ground we’ve recovered from the foul grip of convenience.
The decision to hastily execute, or to torture, is wrong, regardless of who is being executed or tortured.