Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A SIMPLE EXPLANATION. Eugene Volokh spends a long time arguing against a casual comment by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Stevens feels bad that his cryptographical efforts in World War II targetted a Japanese officer for extinction. Similar regrets have been expressed countless times by soldiers throughout recorded history; why does Stevens' so excite Volokh?

It may be because Stevens says the experience soured him on the death penalty, and Volokh is a particularly bloodthirsty character. A few years ago Volokh responded to the Iranian (!) government's torture-execution of a convicted mass-murderer of children thusly:
I particularly like the involvement of the victims' relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he'd killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. The one thing that troubles me (besides the fact that the murderer could only be killed once) is that the accomplice was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but perhaps there's a good explanation.

I am being perfectly serious, by the way. I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness. I think it slights the burning injustice of the murders, and the pain of the families, to react in any other way...

I should mention that such a punishment would probably violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. I'm not an expert on the history of the clause, but my point is that the punishment is proper because it's cruel (i.e., because it involves the deliberate infliction of pain as part of the punishment), so it may well be unconstitutional. I would therefore endorse amending the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to expressly exclude punishment for some sorts of mass murders.
Later, Volokh slightly retracted on the grounds that "attempts to impose the punishments would logjam the criminal justice system and the political system." Darn!

It is worth remembering that some of the more well-regarded spokespeople for conservatism are just plain psychotic freaks. See also here.

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