Philobiblon: The horror of capital punishment

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The horror of capital punishment

I simply cannot understand how people can advocate capital punishment. Can you imagine the horror of waiting for a day of execution drawing closer, not just for the convict - for whom I understand in some cases it is hard to feel sympathy - but for their family and friends, and even for their executioners and jailers? (That has to be one of the most stressful jobs on earth.)

My opinion was strongly influenced by hearing an interview many years ago with the cousin of one of the last people executed in Australia. He'd been a small child at the time - and with the kind of psychological brutality that is happily becoming less common today, was sent off to school as normal on the day his relative was to be executed. Can you imagine how that child felt?

That and even stronger, must be what the mother of the Australian Nguyen Tuong Van will feel today as she visits her son in jail, only days before his scheduled execution (on December 2). And this is Singapore, so the chances of a stay of execution are slim at best.

(The state known for its brutality has also behaved with particular nastiness even by its standards in this case. Notification that her son was to be executed was sent to her by letter, so she was alone when she received the news. Had consular officials been informed, they would have told her in at least a more humane manner.)

Kim Nguyen is an entirely innocent individual, who is being subjected to what can only be described as torture. The convict's twin brother too, if a man with a nasty past, has also done nothing to deserve this torture.

Nguyen admits trying to traffic heroin - although his destination was Australia, not Singapore; he was arrested in the transit area of Singapore airport, so the question might be asked whether the state that was never meant or going to be the subject of the crime has the right to inflict a punishment that the intended destination state (Australia) would not. (Capital punishment was last used in Australia in 1967).

And while he admits that he agreed to be a drug mule (he says he was trying to raise money to say his twin brother from gangsters - an explanation that I haven't seen questioned), he's not any sort of "Mr Big", simply a pawn in the drug game. No doubt after his heroin was seized the gangs will have another half-dozen mules lined up behind him. It is highly unlikely that a single heroin addict missed a single shot as the result of his arrest.

So what does killing him achieve? What?


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