A 10-year-old child in Texas hung himself while acting out the execution of Saddam Hussein. I guess I'll take this as my cue to weigh in on this issue.
The day of Saddam's execution, someone made a casual comment about the impending event. I don't recall what the comment was, nor who made it. I just remember thinking how perverse it was to be chatting about a killing as if it were the next episode of a sitcom.
I also heard that there were plans to prosecute the guy who recorded the killing on his mobile phone. As if killings done in our name should be done in private.
I'm sure that if Saddam had harmed anyone I loved, I would have wanted him dead. However, he didn't harm anyone I know, and I feel dirtier and less proud since he was executed in my name. I have to wonder what sort of justice it is that brings collateral damage to me and more so to a 10-year-old boy in Texas. Not any kind of justice I recognize. Revenge would be a better name for it.
The premise of the justice system should be that it promotes better social outcomes, and killing people doesn't actually do that. It's not about whether Saddam deserved to be killed, but whether the result of his execution will be beneficial. It's far from obvious that it will be.
Why don't we draw and quarter criminals anymore? Or burn women at the stake? Are the crimes of today lesser than those of the past?
No. We're just more civilized these days. The cruelty of these executions was once thought necessary to distinguish the trauma of the penalty from the trauma of everyday life. The problem is that these so-called "punishments" simply prolong our barbarity by desensitizing us to violence. It was right to put an end to barbaric practices in the past, and it is right to do so again.