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Hang'em High

By David Warren

I wish I could claim to be surprised at the revulsion expressed by statesmen, especially across Europe, for the hanging of (in particular) Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti. The man's head happened to come off, as he dropped through a trap door in Iraq, thereby making him a cause célèbre. The upmarket European media are likewise near-hysterical about this "affront to human dignity". And Josi Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, will now support an initiative by Italy's governing socialists for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment, under United Nations auspices.

Barzan, the late half-brother of Saddam Hussein, was also his intelligence chief. Think for five seconds what that might mean. Among Barzan's own victims were those he fed feet-first into wood-choppers. And he was able to do such things repeatedly, without the slightest complaint from officials in Italy, France, Turtle Bay, or elsewhere. Now finally he is brought to justice, and the world's glitziest whited sepulchres suddenly recover their capacity for moral outrage. And all it took was the miscalculation of a ratio between neck diameter and body weight. (Perhaps a metrication error, confusing maunds and kilos.)

I might myself wish the Iraqis could do hangings with more elegance, just as I wish England's cricket team had shown more finesse in their recent tour of Australia (the Aussies crushed them in five successive test matches). In both cases, I was rooting for the blighters, and they made a dreadful mess. But so what?

As Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf is remembered to have said, by way of explaining why, during the Kuwait War, some of his troops had driven their tanks over a few Iraqi soldiers, "There is no polite way to kill a man." (Can't seem to find the reference, but it's the sort of thing we usually attribute to Stormin' Norman, so let it stand.)

My own, less imaginative response, to the numerous emotional persons filling my inbox with complaints about the latest botched Iraqi hanging, was, "I don't see the problem. He had no more use for that head anyway."

The more fanatic opponents of capital punishment cannot be moved by arguments of mercy, let alone justice. Their tears are as selective as their outrage is false. They know everything they need to know; they only lack the moral ability to process what they know.

Extreme sentimentality, on behalf of infamous monsters, is what we have come to expect from the post-rational species of liberal, whom I term a "gliberal" to distinguish him from the real thing. For them, only the side of justice can err. They are indifferent to the victims of injustice. By subtle degrees, they even come to identify with the perpetrators of horrible crimes, though they wouldn't dare commit such crimes themselves. One cannot understand them without meditating deeply on the nature of the demonic.

I used to oppose capital punishment myself. It was my last "liberal" opinion. To be fair to myself, I did not think the state should be deprived of its right to hang felons. My mistake was to reduce a duty to a right.

For I thought wisdom required no one be hanged except in the most extraordinary circumstances, for instance in time of war. Among my more practical arguments, was the observation that given contemporary appeal-court arrangements, it would cost vastly more to get a capital conviction than to lock a criminal away for the rest of his natural life. I thought the popular obsession with capital punishment distracted us from many other scandals of jurisprudence, where the courts were too lenient with vicious malefactors who happened to stop a little short of murder in the first degree.

About five years ago I realized that this is all bosh. A society unwilling to hang a cold-blooded murderer, on evidence meeting the standards of the law, is a society that hasn't the stomach to draw any moral lines, or do anything to defend itself from evil.

Yes, a few innocent people will be hanged from time to time, since no system of human justice can be perfect. Quite a few innocent people also die in boating accidents, yet no U.N. moratorium is proposed on the use of boats. Caution we must always employ, but we cannot afford to be paralyzed by the neurotic fear that something might go wrong. For "human rights" mean nothing if we are never prepared to vindicate them.

You think the risk of error is still too great, and the cost of error too permanent to contemplate? Tell that to the innocent souls of ten million aborted babies.

If you're willing to pay, I can expand that argument to 3,000 pages, and sprinkle a lot more numbers through it. But I have just given you the gist.

The mystery deepens. Turning the newspaper page, we find that, under demented Kyoto arrangements, Germany's Dresdner Bank is now brokering an arrangement by which European companies will pay 15 billion euros to the corrupt and autocratic Russian state monopoly, Gazprom, in return for "carbon credits" to continue selling oil and gas to European customers on the open market. This money in turn will help Russia's dark, authoritarian regime to invest further in its ability to hold Europeans who depend on Russian heating oil through the winter to ransom when it has political demands.

They start by opposing capital punishment. They end by insisting on hanging themselves.

© Ottawa Citizen

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