Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » March 2005 » Following up on....

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03/18/2005: Following up on....

Brock's mention of Eugene Volokh's approval of torture prior to execution, I find myself agreeing with Digby's observations on the matter:

Listening to the inescapable rundowns of the Peterson verdict yesterday, I was struck as I often am by the sarcastic angry tone of the victimís family in front of the cameras just as Iíve often been struck by the spectacle of the families inside the courtroom when they get their chance to confront the perpetrator in the penalty phase. Itís not that I blame them for feeling such rage. But I find it very disconcerting that our justice system believes that this revenge and catharsis should be part of the judicial process itself. Justice is supposed to be blind. Or so I thought.

I donít believe in the death penalty because I think that the only justification for killing is self defense and when someone is locked up forever that is protection enough from their depredations. But Iím beginning to wonder if accepting the death penalty as we have presents another problem. So much focus is placed on the feelings of the victimís families these days that I think we may have lost sight of the fact that there can be no recompense for the loss of a loved one. Therefore, the death penalty can never really be enough to satisfy the need that we are trying to make it satisfy.

As Volokh suggests, people will want to inflict pain to try to ease their own but that will not be sufficient either, will it? If one were to ask those relatives who helped in the torture and execution of that criminal if they felt satisfied, I would bet you that they donít believe that real justice was served. Perhaps they think they should have been allowed to inflict the exact kind of pain that was inflicted on their kids, forced sodomy. Maybe they think that they should have been allowed to relive the murders with him as the victim. But would even that be enough? Could he suffer exactly the same way a child would have suffered in similar circumstances? Itís never going to be enough. And once you go down this road the line between those who kill because of mental defect, disease and evil and those who do it for revenge becomes very hard to see.
I am not unsympathetic to the plight of victims of crime, however, we seem to be losing sight of the fact that the criminal justice system doesn't exist to vindicate the rights of the victims of crime, much less to see to it that the victims somehow feel "satisfied" after the criminal who victimized them is caught and convicted. The criminal justice system exists to protect the interests of society as a whole, and those interests are not coextensive with the interests of the victims of crimes, particularly where their interests appear to be grounded in a desire for revenge.

Len on 03.18.05 @ 10:23 AM CST

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