Belfast Telegraph

Tyrants should be put on trial, not hunted like rats

By Mary Kenny

Are you opposed to the death-penalty for murder? If you are, are you part of the globalised campaign against capital punishment?

Gradually, the abolitionists have been gaining ground. There are now only 58 countries that retain capital punishment and only 23 of these regularly carry out executions.

Countries such as South Africa, Malawi and Kenya have abolished capital punishment. Even in the US, individual states are increasingly abolitionist, either in law or in practice.

Twenty-four American states out of 50 have formally abolished the death-penalty and others are reducing the practice. Abolitionists are, meanwhile, focused on Iran, Japan, and China, where capital punishment still exists.

Even the famous (or notorious, depending on your view) British hangman Albert Pierrepoint had his own code of ethics: he did his best to dispatch his victims with the minimum amount of suffering. When Pierrepoint hanged Ruth Ellis - the last woman in Britain to face the gallows - he dispatched her in eight seconds.

By the end of his career, Pierrepoint himself had become an abolitionist. From the Vatican (which first condemned the death penalty in the 19th century) to all international human rights organisations, the death-penalty is condemned.

So isn't it strange that just when there flourishes a globalised movement against the death-penalty, dictators like Muammar Gaddafi are subjected to a gruesome summary public execution, which doesn't even involve a trial?

And isn't it repulsive that there were 'outbursts of happiness on social networks' (according to the BBC) at the news of the tyrant's death by public lynching, so tastefully displayed on YouTube?

Few have regretted Gaddafi's passing - which is understandable - and it has been left to Gerry Adams, ironically, to deplore death by public violence. Many commentators have simply said of Gaddafi's death that 'he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword'.

Is it altogether edifying, for that matter, that Osama bin Laden was also hunted down and summarily executed without benefit of trial or jury?

Other dictators, too, such as Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and his wife, Elena, were pursued by a howling mob and murdered.

However, if you uphold the rule of law, summary execution cannot be deemed acceptable. It is simply mob revenge, and the law is constructed to replace mob revenge with evidence-based judgment.

But maybe the gruesome, summary deaths meted out to the likes of Gaddafi occur precisely because of the growing prohibition against the death-penalty.

Had Gaddafi been arrested, held in custody and brought to the International Court at The Hague, what might have been the outcome?

A long and drawn-out trial - as Slobodan Milosevic received, and as Radko Mladic still faces - employing expensive lawyers at the cost of the public purse? And, at the end, a custodial sentence, with his supporters mustering sympathy for the rest of his natural days?

Those who wanted Gaddafi punished wanted him subjected to the death-penalty. So they took the law into their own hands.

Where there is no judicial capital punishment, there will be mob acts of chaotic vengeance. The war crimes trials at Nuremberg are now sometimes criticised as 'victors' justice'. But Nuremberg did offer the satisfaction of hearing all the evidence in open court and sending some of the most egregious convicted offenders to the gallows.

Some of those arraigned - such as Goering and Himmler - chose the self-administered death-penalty by cyanide pill.

Later, in 1961, the Israelis brought Adolf Eichmann to trial; and after all the evidence was heard about the disgusting atrocities he had carried out, sentenced him to death - all with due process.

Evil as Eichmann's role had been in running the death camps of the Third Reich, he was not subjected to death by lynch mob: he was permitted the protocols of the prisoner in the dock.

There always are, and there always will be, men who seize power and preside over horrible regimes. When their regimes topple, they should be made to answer for their crimes - not hunted down like cornered rats, or put to death in an act of brutal retribution.

But if the victims of tyrants and dictators feel that justice will not be meted out to the malefactor - Milosevic died reasonably peacefully of cardiac failure in his cell - then they will take the law into their own hands and administer death by public lynch mob.

Those who oppose the death-penalty must understand that vengeance - like water - seeks an outlet, which it will inevitably find.

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