Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam Hussein Verdict: A Just Decision?

Various agencies are reporting today about the death sentence for Saddam Hussein and his cohorts. According to one AP summary, the reception of the news is mixed. While I can understand that some of the sentences are unnecesary, and while I am opposed to capital punishment in most if not all circumstances, this is one of those rare cases that I believe truly fits the guidelines outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent. (2267)


In the case of Saddam, we have a figure whose return to public life would almost lead to additional loss of life, perhaps on a broader scale than what he has managed in the past. Simply put, he is a tremendous liability to the Iraqi people if he is allowed to live, and the Iraqi government needs to do whatever they can to ensure that he is never able to return to power again. The only way to do this in the present circumstance is through execution. A life sentence still leaves open the possibility that he could be rescued by extremists and used to foment even more discord. Anyone who thinks his return would not be more chaotic than the current situation need only look at the protests in Tikrit. He still has plenty of followers, but they are resigned to his fate. Would they be so resigned were he sprung from his prison cell?

I'd be interested in the thoughts of others. Given that the Catechism clearly allows capital punishment in some circumstances, if this situation does not warrant it, what situation does?

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