Death-Penalty Blues

This Week, BBC1‘s late-night political discussion programme, had a piece last night from Colonel Tim Collins, who used to be “Britain’s most senior soldier in Iraq”. He was saying that Saddam Hussein should hang as soon as possible, and that we should have the death penalty in Britain.

I won’t reiterate the many general arguments against the death penalty here, but consider these. Collins tried to justify the execution of Saddam by citing the brutality of Saddam’s regime. The thing is, you don’t demonstrate the wrongness of a brutal regime by exercising the most brutal form of punishment. You don’t win that way: at best you draw, and who wants to draw with a dictator? You win by showing that you’re better than that; by behaving in a civilised way.

He went on to say that it’s “incoherent” that Britain should have nuclear weapons, but not have the option to execute terrorists. I see absolutely no logical connection between the two, and neither did Michael Portillo. Nor could Collins make the connection in a way that made any sense.

Using the death penalty isn’t a sign of strength: it’s a sign of weakness. The truly strong can both show mercy, and behave in a way that separates them from the caveman.


  1. Well, one agrees of course: when I heard the sentence my heart sank. It seems such a wrong move. If Hess could be locked up, why not Saddam? And that was awful enough. I remember when he died.

    The fear is that this could cause all sorts of spillout ructions, I can’t imagine it all goes smoothly with no escalations resulting. Of course (sigh) America does still have the death penalty, and no one fonder of using it than Bush himself.

  2. Hi Ms B, thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right.

    The Lord Chancellor made a good point too, on Radio 4’s __Any Questions__. I was pleased to hear him come down unequivocally against the death penalty, but he also pointed out that it would be good for Saddam to go through trial after trial, to expose all his crimes.

    (I wasn’t so impressed to hear him follow the party line to the point of self-delusion on whether Britain’s actions in Iraq has contributed to the radicalisation of some Muslims, but that’s another story.)

  3. Oh, I missed that. Well, you know, it is depressing. It hardly matters what happens, it will still be depressing – and the thing about trials is their knack for focusing everyone’s minds on what has already happened and been and gone. Catharsis may be a good thing for the Kurds and some others. But one cannot help wishing there were that button we could push that goes “Make Everything All Right.”

    Anyway, I have bookmarked you!

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