86 Pro Death Penalty Quotes by Journalists II

Rulers are not given their power to shed blood so that they can use it to make themselves feel good, or seek to raise their poll ratings. They are given it so that they can protect their own citizens from peril and subjugation. (Quoted in The Daily Express 5 April 1999)


Should Saddam have been executed in public or at all? 03 January 2007 11:44 AM – Quite often, the police marksmen get the right people. Occasionally, as Jean Charles de Menezes found, they don't. Those who argue that the danger of hanging the wrong man is a total and unanswerable objection to the death penalty ought surely to take the same view of police killings, and insist on the disarming of the police. But, funnily enough, they don't take this view. This is because the risk of killing innocents isn't really their reason for objecting to capital punishment. It's a pretext that avoids the real question.

I thought hard about the claim that the danger of an innocent person being executed is a complete argument against the death penalty. I think it's false and evasive. Those who advance this argument do not accept such a stringent condition on many other policies of which they approve, and which can be absolutely guaranteed to cause the deaths of innocents. For example, the release of convicted murderers from prison can be reliably statistically predicted to lead to the deaths of innocents. It has this effect in Britain at the rate of roughly two homicides every three years. But it is not ruled out for that reason. (Some responses to correspondents 09 January 2007 4:03 PM

I accept that an absolute pacifist can consistently oppose the death penalty. If you really believe that there are no circumstances in which killing is justified, then you can honestly say that you are against execution on principle. But be careful here. If you believe this, then you presumably believe that resistance, even against the most evil powers on earth, must be non-violent. You would have to say that the RAF Battle of Britain pilots of the late summer of 1940 were wrong to shoot down their Luftwaffe opponents. (Some responses to correspondents 09 January 2007 4:03 PM)

The same distinction needs to be made when we consider the strange way in which many (there are honorable exceptions) modern left-wingers are unmoved by mass abortion, dehumanizing the unborn baby as a 'fetus', a Latin word employed (as usual) to hide the truth of what is going on. The difference lies in the nature of the person being killed. All unborn babies are innocent. None gets a trial, or the chance to argue its case before it is killed - killed, by the way, in circumstances much grislier than any execution. You will never be allowed to see an abortion on British TV. Its individual life is not even admitted to exist, as lawyers insist that the only 'right to choose' belongs to the baby's mother. The fierce, homicidal influence often exerted on these "free to choose" mothers by husbands and boyfriends is never even mentioned. There is no chance at all of killing a guilty person by this method. (Some responses to correspondents 09 January 2007 4:03 PM)

Now, if they were consistently against the killing of anybody, surely they'd have to be against this ganging up of adults on innocent children? But they're often not. You ask them why. Try as I may to put myself in the position of the pro-abortion anti-hanger, I can't get the argument to work. It can only be done by insisting that a baby is not human until a certain (or rather, uncertain) date, set to suit the abortionist rather than the baby, which is understandably not asked if it considers itself human at this stage, or would have considered itself human at this stage if it had survived a little longer and been allowed a say. If you're against hanging, you must also be against abortion. But you can be for hanging murderers and against abortion. The key is innocence or guilt, and beneath that lies the ideal of lawful justice, which is what we are actually talking about. (Some responses to correspondents 09 January 2007 4:03 PM)

A very simple point - on executing the wrong person - still seems not to have got across. I'm not saying innocent deaths are all right, or even trying to justify them. I'm just saying that human organization is imperfect and that shouldn't be a reason against having any organization at all. Such deaths happen in this and many other areas of public policy, and are not generally judged to be a reason for abandoning any other policies widely thought to be beneficial. In fact, if we took this view, much government would be paralyzed. (Ripostes, retorts and responses 17 January 2007 1:52 PM

Nobody wants innocents to die. Every possible effort should be made to avoid it, though in the knowledge that perfection is unattainable. It is terrible to kill an innocent. However, those who advance this risk as an absolute reason for not using the death penalty are dishonest with themselves, and inconsistent in their own minds. For in many other fields of life, they support - for utilitarian reasons - other policies, which are certain to result in the killing of innocent people. Now, if you believe that the danger of an unintended innocent death, however small, is itself a reason for rejecting the death penalty, then you must -in logic - take the same view about the other policies that carry a similar (or larger) risk. And if you don't take that view on any other policy, you cannot take it on the death penalty. (Ripostes, retorts and responses 17 January 2007 1:52 PM)

Unrepentant serial killers and soft MPs 24 February 2008 12:10 AM - The political class dislike the death penalty because it makes them directly responsible for protecting the gentle. They make the most pitiful excuses for being against it, which don't stand up to a moment's examination. Absurdly, they claim to be worried about the deaths of innocent people, as if every murder victim was not innocent.

Unrepentant serial killers and soft MPs 24 February 2008 12:10 AM - THE conviction of Steve Wright once again raises the obvious need for a death penalty for unrepentant murderers. Most sensible people can see this without difficulty. But the politicians' trade union stands against it, and you will notice that MPs of all parties claim that this is unthinkable, impossible in the modern world – as if the modern world were somehow kinder than the recent past, which is the reverse of the truth.

26 February 2008 6:23 PM

If it's all right for Cuba to have the death penalty, why can't we have it too?

Read Peter Hitchens only in The Mail on Sunday

Q. Well, I would be in favour of the death penalty, but I am worried about innocent people being hanged. Doesn't that fear make it impossible to have a death penalty?

A. No. It is a perfectly good argument for taking a huge amount of trouble to ensure that innocents are not executed. It is also a good argument for bringing back some sort of property or education qualification for juries, and abolishing majority verdicts. Nobody should be hanged except on a unanimous verdict of mature and educated people. But the world isn't perfect, and we don't let this concern for the innocent stand in the way of lots of other policies, many of them supported by the very people who raise this objection to execution.

For instance, every three years, two people are killed by convicted murderers released early from prison. These victims are innocent. In that case, the liberals who advance this argument would have to accept that every convicted murderer should be locked up for life without the chance of parole so as to avoid the risk to the innocent. But they don't believe this. So where's their concern for innocent death now? Then again, most people supported the Kosovo war and still do (especially liberals). But when we bombed Serbia, we knew that innocents were bound to die, and they duly did die - including the make-up lady at the Belgrade TV station. That didn't stop these liberal leftists, who oppose hanging guilty murderers, from supporting it, and continuing to support it after those deaths had taken place.

Not a liberal leftist? Then there's our mad transport policy which just happens to suit quite a lot of us down to the ground, of relying so heavily on motor cars that we require an incredibly feeble driving test and allow tens of thousands of unskilled people to drive cars at a far too young age. We know from experience that this will result, every year, in at least 3,000 deaths. Yet we do nothing.

Our failure to act, in the knowledge that this failure will lead to those deaths, is deliberate, conscious self-interested negligence, morally equivalent to deliberate proxy killing for personal advantage (as offered by Harry Lime to Holly Martins in the Big Wheel in 'The Third Man'). It is also the reason why the courts don't adequately punish those who kill while driving. We're all conscious that driving isn't really safe, that we impose far too much responsibility on drivers in a fundamentally dangerous system, and that it could so easily have been us who did the killing. Personally I think this intolerable carnage is a much more urgent problem in our society than the faint hypothetical risk of hanging someone for a murder he didn't commit. So is the growing level both of homicide itself, and of violence that would be homicidal were it not for our superb emergency surgeons, who nightly drag back dozens from the lip of the grave.

People dislike being told this because it is absolutely true and very harrowing.  These deaths are all of innocent people. If the fear of killing an innocent person really was an overwhelming veto on a public policy, then the driving test would have to made so difficult that most of us could never pass it, speed limits would have to be lower than they are now, and private car ownership restricted to a tiny few highly-skilled persons.

The truth is that the fear of killing innocents is not a reason to abolish or ban capital punishment.  If it were, we'd have to abolish the armed services and be forced to ride bicycles. It's an excuse for people not to face up to their responsibilities.

26 February 2008 6:23 PM

If it's all right for Cuba to have the death penalty, why can't we have it too?

Read Peter Hitchens only in The Mail on Sunday

Q. How can you express moral disapproval of killing, by killing someone else?

A. It is not killing we are trying to express loathing for.  It is murder. All of us, except absolute pacifists, accept that killing is sometimes justified. In simple self-defence, the case is easy. In defensive war, in which aggressive actions are permitted, less straightforward but still acceptable to most of us. And I think quite a few of us would be ready to forgive and condone in advance an assassination of an aggressive tyrant before he could embark on war. So we license armed forces to shoot back at our attackers, or to attack our attackers in retaliation or deterrence.

What we are disapproving of is murder (the Commandment is not, as so often said 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' but 'Thou Shalt do no Murder'). This remember, is the deliberate, premeditated, merciless (and often prolonged and physically cruel in the extreme) killing of an innocent person, generally for the personal gain of the murderer. There is no comparison between such an action and the lawful, swift execution of a guilty person, after a fair trial with presumption of innocence, the possibility of appeal and of reprieve. 

Absolute pacifists are at least consistent, but if they had their way we'd be in a German empire where innocent people were being executed all the time with gas-chambers, guillotines and piano-wire, and worse. So their consistency doesn't offer much of a way out.

26 February 2008 6:23 PM

If it's all right for Cuba to have the death penalty, why can't we have it too?

Read Peter Hitchens only in The Mail on Sunday

Q. But deterrence doesn't work. Most states in the USA have the death penalty and the murder rate is often higher there than in states that don't have it.

A. First of all, this is not the USA, a country with far higher levels of violence (until recently anyway) than we have had for centuries. Comparisons between the two countries need to be made with great care. Secondly, no US state really has the death penalty. Even Texas, which comes closest, still fails to execute the majority of its convicted murderers, who fester for decades on death row while conscience-stricken liberals drag out their appeals to the crack of doom. Most states which formally have the penalty on their books seldom or never apply it.

The 1949 Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (which was inconclusive on deterrence and most other things) pointed out that deterrence was very hard to establish. Countries which abolish the death penalty usually do so after a long period of suspension, or when it is hardly used, or when the law is unclear. So the murder rates before and after the formal date of abolition often tells us very little. In Britain, this is also the case. The death penalty had its teeth drawn in 1957 and the annual number of executions in the final years of capital punishment was small. So the penalty's official date of abolition, 1965, is misleading. There's another feature of this I'll turn to later.

Then there is the difficulty of classifying murder. The 1957 Act introduced a category of 'manslaughter due to diminished responsibility' which got you off the death penalty. And so, for the eight years after 1957, this category of homicide grew quite sharply. Some suspect that these are cases which would have been murders before 1957. If that is so, as we shall see, then it makes quite a lot of difference.  Since then, it has not been so important, since the difference between a manslaughter sentence and the so-called 'life' sentences given for murder is no longer as stark as the old distinction between a prison sentence or an appointment with Mr Albert Pierrepoint on the scaffold.

Nowadays, it is suspected (especially by the relatives of victims who write to me about this complaining) that quite a lot of cases which would once have been prosecuted as murder are now prosecuted as manslaughter so as to get a quicker, easier conviction.

So the homicide statistics offer a rather wobbly idea of what is going on. Skip this if you want, but it is important. The blurred categories might suggest one thing, while actually saying another. Even so, here are some samples. In 1956, when the death penalty was still pretty serious, there were 94 convictions for homicide in England and Wales (all future figures refer to England and Wales unless otherwise stated). Of these, 11 were for infanticide, 51 for manslaughter and 32 for murder. In 1958, after the softening of the law, there were 113 homicide convictions - 10 infanticides, 48 manslaughters, 25 for manslaughter with 'diminished responsibility' and 30 for murder. By 1964 there were 170 homicide convictions - 12 infanticides, 73 manslaughters, 41 manslaughters due to 'diminished responsibility’, 44 murders. So, in eight years, a rise in homicide from 94 to 170, quite substantial. But those convicted for murder had risen only from 32 to 44, which hardly seems significant at all. What was really going on here could only be established by getting out the trial records. But it is at least possible that, by reclassifying and downgrading certain homicides, the authorities had made things look a good deal better than they were. Remember, these are convictions, not totals of offences committed.

Sorry, more statistics here. In 1966, immediately after formal abolition, there were 254 homicide convictions, 72 of them for murder. In 1975, 377 homicide convictions, 107 for murder. In 1985, 441 manslaughter convictions, 173 for murder. In 2004, there were 648 homicide convictions - including 361 murders, 265 ordinary manslaughters and 22 'diminished responsibilities'. Interestingly, more people were convicted of manslaughter (265) than were charged with it (137) and none of those convicted of 'diminished responsibility' (22) were charged with it. Many murder prosecutions failed (759 were proceeded against).

The increasingly important charge of 'attempted murder' has also run into trouble. In 2004 417 were proceeded against, and 96 convicted. Prosecutions for wounding or other acts endangering life was even more troublesome, with 7,054 proceeded against and 1,897 convicted. These figures, again,. are for charges and convictions rather than instances of the offence, which in both cases is considerably higher. Offences of wounding etc are now close to the 19,000 mark each year, around triple the total for 30 years ago.

And many of these cases would have been murders, if we still had the medical techniques of 1965. Again, this makes direct 'before ' and 'after' comparisons, required for a conclusive case for or against deterrence. Hard. And we must also remember the general moral decline that has accompanied the weakening of the law, and may have been encouraged by it. If you remove the keystone of an arch, many other stones, often quite far away in the structure, will loosen or fall.

Finally, a little historical curiosity which I personally find fascinating. Some American researchers suggest that the sort of murder which has increased since the death penalty in the USA was effectively abolished is so-called 'stranger' murder, for example, the killing of a woman by her rapist, or of a petrol station attendant by the man who has robbed him. The calculation (and criminals do calculate) is simple. "If I leave this person alive, she or he can testify against me, and I could go to jail for a very long time. If I kill him or her, then there will be no witness and I will probably get away with it entirely. And even if I am convicted of murder, all that will happen is jail time." Bang.

So, the death penalty may actually prevent or deter violent crimes which might otherwise end in an opportunist killing. It is said that British bank-robbers, before 1957, would search each other for weapons in case one of them killed, and they all swung - which was then the rule. And Colin Greenwood, a former police officer and expert on Gun Crime, produces the following interesting, in fact gripping fact. In both 1948 and 1956, the death penalty was suspended in this country while Parliament debated its future. During both periods of suspension, armed and violent offences rose sharply. After the 1948 attempt to abolish hanging failed (Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin being among the Labour MPs who voted to keep it), they fell sharply. After 1956, when the law was weakened, they fell back again, but not so sharply. In 1964, they rose again, and have been doing so ever since.

I think this, taken together, is strong evidence for a deterrent effect. I am not talking about total deterrence - some crimes could never be deterred - but partial and significant, potentially lifesaving. How many innocents have died, or been horribly maimed, because those who accept the salaries and perks of office are not prepared to assume its hard duties, and wield the civil sword? And yet opponents of the death penalty whimper on about the minuscule danger of hanging the wrong person.

26 February 2008 6:23 PM

If it's all right for Cuba to have the death penalty, why can't we have it too?

Read Peter Hitchens only in The Mail on Sunday

Q. Surely revenge has no part in a civilised society?

A. How true, and how right. One of the purposes of stern penalties is to prevent revenge by making it clear that the law has real teeth. But a toothless law will lead to the return of revenge among us.  The bargain we strike with our rulers is that we give up the right to personal vengeance, and the endless blood-feuds that follow it.  And in return, we ask our rulers to wield a stern law, dealing with wrongdoing in such a way as to drive home the moral lesson that no evil deed goes unpunished. It's a simple contract   

Civilised, law-governed societies rest on it, but our political class prefer not to fulfil it because they haven't the moral guts to take responsibility for sending a murderer to his death. It is this gutlessness among politicians, more than anything else, that has led to the abolition of the death penalty. They won't take the responsibility. This cannot be said often enough. The result is that responsibility is increasingly handed over to an unofficially armed police force, which shoots people without trial, appeal or the possibility of reprieve, and often gets it wrong. Watch the numbers grow.

But that's only the beginning. If ( as I fear) respect for the criminal justice system continues to dwindle especially among the abandoned honest poor, we can expect to see an increase of vigilante private 'justice', even lynch-mobs. What the left-liberals don't seem to grasp is that if they strangle justice, revenge is what they will get. And then, rather too late, they will be able to tell the difference between the two. I wish there was some other way to explain it to them.

Forgiveness is not incompatible with execution. You cannot forgive your own murderer, because you are dead. Even a deathbed pardon is dubious. Until you know what it is like being dead, how can you be so sure that you have forgiven the person who rendered you dead? It is all very well to forgive the person who bumps into you in the street and says sorry, but much harder when you find out later that he has also taken your wallet, has not said sorry, and is not available to be forgiven for that. And it is presumptuous of us to forgive him on your behalf. Pope John Paul II is a poor example in this dispute, as he survived Agca's attack, and in any case it took place in a country without a death penalty. Had Agca killed him, in a country which did have the death penalty, who would have been doing the forgiving?

If I am asked to love my neighbour as myself, I am happy to do so. That is, not to love him too much to be blind to his faults, or forgiving of unexpiated crimes.  And if I ask to be forgiven , as I  forgive them that trespass against me, then I am perfectly happy with an arrangement that says I don't get forgiven until I have shown genuine repentance for, and understanding of my wrong deeds. I can guarantee I won't forgive anyone who trespasses against me until he has shown repentance.

In any case, justice is not a private transaction between victim and assailant. It is the law that decides if the killer should be executed, not the victim (who, I must keep stressing, is dead) or the victim's family.  They might forgive their relative's killer, which would be nice of them, but the law would still be entitled to execute him whatever they thought, and quite right too, acting on behalf of the victim (opinions unavailable) and of justice, which in civilised countries specifies a special penalty for the deliberate taking of life, not out of revenge, as the abolitionists falsely claim, but out of the need for law.

As for repentance, you'll have to judge whether these various murderers in American jails are the penitent paragons they say they are. Perhaps so. How could one prove it? They gain so much from these performances that there is more than one explanation for their behaviour.  But when it comes to repentance, I am with Samuel Johnson - who remarked that the prospect of being hanged in a fortnight concentrates a man's mind wonderfully well. Penitence under those conditions is more likely to be the real thing.

Of course there are practical differences between armies killing enemies and executioners killing condemned men. But they are practical, not moral. For moral purposes, this is a distinction without a difference. All but pacifists accept that the state has the lawful right to kill. (Bicycles, class, sarcasm, massacres, schools and the gallows. Just another week in the blogosphere 11 March 2008 4:28 PM)

The only argument that remains is the precise circumstance. And if one had to argue between the two, the execution of a murderer convicted after due process would surely be morally preferable to the killing, without any due process, of a kindly family man conscripted into a foreign army or air force against his will. (Bicycles, class, sarcasm, massacres, schools and the gallows. Just another week in the blogosphere 11 March 2008 4:28 PM)

A society that punishes the guilty properly is free to leave the innocent alone to get on with their lives undisturbed by the State. (Too fat for their jeans, but Labour still think like Trots 21 June 2008 7:38 PM)

Why weak justice means the end of freedom 25 June 2008 2:23 PM - I mentioned in my column that there's no contradiction between supporting the gallows and defending English liberty. On the contrary, the two things go together like roast beef and horseradish sauce.  The good old English hanging judge, as George Orwell once unwillingly conceded, was also an incorruptible figure of impartial justice. But I'd go further than that. Feebleness towards wrongdoers will eventually mean the end of freedom.

“I think that hanging would be the only way to carry out capital punishment humanely – if properly conducted,” he tells me. “The straightforward breaking of the neck is a quick, relatively painless way to go about it. In the old days, for example, a hangman could dispatch a criminal within literally seconds of them walking into the room. It was extremely efficient – the door opened, the criminal was sent in, the noose fastened, there was a drop, and then all of a sudden it was over. The victim – I mean, not the victim, the criminal, rather, is dead right away. So it’s much preferable to other methods one might implement.”

“The first execution I witnessed was Nicholas Ingram. Do you know what he did?”

“Why anyone would waste a second’s breath on trying to save that man, I have no idea,” Hitchens sighs. “In 1983, Ingram went into the home of an elderly couple, robbed them, dragged them out to the woods, tied them to a tree, tortured them – while remarking also that he enjoyed torturing people – and then shot the husband in the head, and did the same to the wife. They were tied to the same tree, but the wife survived the wound and testified against him. There was no question of his guilt, and no question that he should have been executed.”

We are often told that we imprison more people than any other European country (though in fact the gap isn't that big, as careful study of the figures shows). But this endlessly repeated liberal whine fails to notice that we also have many more crimes and criminals than any comparable European country.

If we imprisoned at the rate they do, we would have even more people inside. But we do not. We either don't send them to prison in the first place or we let them out as fast as possible.

What happened to produce this enormous increase? Well, the sixties happened. The death penalty was abolished, requiring the growing incarceration of murderers for long periods, and a general inflation of sentencing because there was now no distinction between property crimes and killing, and because serious violence grows more common when murder isn't punished by death. (What's the point of prison? 16 November 2009 3:50 PM)

Even those of them who pretend to believe in the death penalty will say: ‘But what if an innocent person got killed by mistake?’

Yet when it comes to Libya the same people suddenly lose all their doubts.

They’ll protect Libyan civilians by dropping tons of high explosive on anyone who attacks them. If innocent people are killed by mistake, and they have been and will be, that is ‘collateral damage’, sad but acceptable. (We can protect a mob in Benghazi, so why not a little girl in Stockwell? 02 April 2011 11:55 PM)

On the question of the Commandment 'Thou Shalt do no Murder', it is so rendered by Christ himself (Gospel according to St Matthew, Chapter 19, 18th verse, Authorised or 'King James' version).

This is why it is also so rendered in the service of The Lord's Supper in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. (Killing no murder? 11 April 2011 12:02 PM)

I might add that Christ himself was subject to the death penalty, and his sayings were recorded when sentence was passed on him and while it was being carried out, and He did not take the opportunities offered to condemn it in principle. I agree that arguments from silence are not always reliable. But in this case, the silence is pretty eloquent. He did say much on other subjects during this event. What is more, one of the two thieves stated from his cross that they were justly punished for their crimes, and Christ did not contradict him. (Killing no murder? 11 April 2011 12:02 PM)

I might add that both the 39 Articles of the Church of England (Article 37), and the Roman Catholic Catechism, both conclude that the death penalty is justified in certain circumstances. Those who compile these documents do not do so without much study of scriptural texts, or without much thought. (Killing no murder? 11 April 2011 12:02 PM)

Non-religious persons trying to make trouble will just have to accept that mainstream Christianity somehow manages to distinguish between lawless murder and lawful execution - even if Atheists appear to be unable to do so. Likewise it manages to observe that the destruction of a baby in the womb is the wrongful taking of life, which atheists also seem unable to perceive. (Killing no murder? 11 April 2011 12:02 PM)

That so many who are squeamish about the swift and humane execution of justly convicted killers are so relaxed about the mass murder, often by tearing them to pieces with metal instruments, of unborn babies, the bombing of Belgrade, Baghdad and Afghanistan (and now of Libya). (The Civil Sword 14 April 2011 2:58 PM)