Category Archives: Punishment theory

U.K. government forced to open end-of-empire files

Great news from London, that a landmark court case by elderly Kenyan freedom fighters has now forced the Foreign Office to confess that they have suddenly “found” what are described as “around 8,800 files relating to 37 former British administrations — including those in Palestine, Cyprus, Malaya, Nigeria and Northern Rhodesia”, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, and that “most of them” will be made public.
(If “Palestine” is among them, that means they must include the 1940s, too, no?)
Hat-tip to Laleh Khalili, by the way. Over on Facebook one of Laleh’s other commenters and I both identified this as a sort of time-warped Wikileaks trove.
That article by AP says,

    Foreign Office minister David Howell said the search for the Mau Mau documents had uncovered around 2,000 boxes of files from the 1950s and 1960s which the office has “decided to regularize.”
    Howell said in a statement to lawmakers in Britain’s upper house on Tuesday that although colonial administrators left behind most of their papers after independence, they took certain files “not appropriate to hand onto the successor government” back to Britain.

I don’t like that word “regularize”. It smacks to me of “sanitizing.”
The article includes this:

    The British government will face its first test on whether these new files can be used against it on Thursday, when the four Kenyans — Ndiku Mutua, Paulo Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara — will argue that they were severely beaten and tortured by officers on behalf of the British government trying to suppress the Mau Mau uprising. Two of them have claimed they were castrated.
    The Kenya Human Rights Commission believes 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed during the crackdown against the Mau Mau and 160,000 were detained in appalling conditions. Among those detained was President Barack Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama.
    All sides declined to reveal detailed contents of the papers ahead of the court case Thursday, but [Oxford University historian David] Anderson said the documents may show evidence that people in all parts of the British government knew that captured Mau Mau fighters were being tortured.
    “I’ve heard British officials say that all the abuse was carried out by junior officials, a few bad apples,” said Anderson, whose book “Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the end of Empire” investigates the Mau Mau uprising.
    “These documents are critical — we must hope they will reveal who did or did not know about what was going on.”

That all-American urge to punish

On Thursday afternoon I took the long drive down to the far southeastern corner of Virginia and took part in solemn observances to mark– and protest– our state’s killing of one of its citizens, Teresa Lewis.
It was a big and moving event. I was there not only as an individual but also in my capacity as a board member of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, so I spoke to a few media people in that capacity.
By far the most engaging person in the field outside Greensville ‘Correctional’ Center, where Teresa Lewis lost all hope of ever being further ‘corrected’ was Rev. Lynn Litchfield, who had been Teresa’s pastor for several years when Teresa was still in Fluvanna Woman’s Prison, near Charlottesville. Lynn had spent 2.5 hours with Teresa on Wednesday; and she spoke with great emotion and sincerity about how Teresa had, many times over the years, expressed remorse for the part she played (albeit only a small, facilitating part– no-one ever claimed she pulled the trigger) in the shooting murder of her husband and stepson back in 2003.
Lynn read out the portion of the scriptures that Teresa had asked her to read. (Phil.I, 12-28) Some 60 of us in the prayer circle sang and prayed together. And as Teresa was being killed we clanged a great heavy bell there in the darkening field.
I first became engaged in anti-death penalty activism shortly after my family and I moved into Virginia in 1997– coming from the District of Columbia, a jurisdiction that doesn’t have the death penalty (except the federal death penalty.) I was taken aback at the idea that by moving across the Potomac River into Virginia we were moving back into the Middle Ages… What with the death penalty and the still-standing laws that made sodomy into a felony…
A couple of years later, I was trying to weigh up how to divide my time and my concern between activism on death penalty issues here in my home state and on war-and-peace issues internationally. One of my Quaker friends helped clarify matters, saying quite simply that “It’s all the same urge, at home and abroad: It’s the urge to punish. It’s the stance that says ‘We are right, and we have the right to enact serious punishment on anyone we disagree with.'”
It’s also the point of view that holds that punishing, punishing, punishing all the time is somehow the “right” thing do– even when that punishing gets in the way of resolving conflicts or other problems.
It’s that self-righteous position that says that “we” are so right that we don’t even need to listen to anyone else… Not a Teresa Lewis… Not a Fidel Castro… Not an Ismail Haniyeh… Not the entire population of Gaza and the West Bank, which voted Haniyeh’s party into office in 2006… No, no-one else at all. Because, you see, “we” Americans are so inherently virtuous that we are always right; and anyone who challenges us is necessarily wrong, and should be punished.
Teresa Lewis, by her own account and that of the state, did one pretty bad thing at one point in her life. The state ignored her borderline mental retardation and determined that she had been “the mastermind” in the plot to kill her husband Julian Lewis, and that the two men who were the triggermen had somehow been only her pawns. They got life in prison– though one of them later bragged about how he had set her up, flirted with her, and preyed on her in order to pursue his tragic loser’s dream of somehow making it big as a respected and well-off “hit man.” He later killed himself in prison… The tragedies go on and on.
Meantime, we have still at large in our country, several people who have perpetrated acts very, very much more serious than Teresa Lewis’s. People who knowingly misled the public and jerked our government into launching a quite unjustified– and completely tragic– invasion of Iraq. People who instituted waterboarding and other forms of torture, disappearances, and international renditions… People who argued that in 2006 Israel should be “allowed” to continue its unjustified bombardment of Lebanon– for 33 whole days– or its equally unjustified bombardment of Gaza in 2008-09… And all those people have been allowed to walk away quite freely. They are in our midst at think tanks in Washington DC. They have the blood of so many innocents on their hands.
(This “urge to punish” is not, it turns out, omnidirectional in America. It very much depends on politics– and money. If you are poor and can’t afford a decent lawyer, you are 1,000 more times more likely to be on death row than if you’re a well-paid lobbyist, lawyer, banker– or Elliott Abrams.)
A state– any state– is a fallible, human institution. No state has the right to designate for killing off the battlefield (or even, I would argue, on it… but let’s stick to off-battlefield killings for now) any human person, whether at home or abroad.
At home, the idea that a economically disadvantaged, slightly simple-minded person like Teresa gets designated for killing is an outrage. Abroad, the idea that there are young American men sitting in military bases far from any battlefield, armed with killer drones and lists of names of people who are to be killed, is equally an outrage.
Who compiles those lists of names? Based on what evidence? No-one knows! It is truly an international Star Chamber, and it should be abhorrent to us all.
There are– in all these cases– good, solid alternatives to state killing. Alternatives that will be more effective in protecting the lives of innocents. At home and abroad– state killing must stop.

Some thoughts on Megrahi and Lockerbie

There is currently a huge amount of over-heated rhetoric on the airwaves and in the blogosphere, in reaction to the Scottish court’s decision to release convicted Libyan mass-bomber Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi before the end of his sentence, on compassionate/health grounds.
I think the court has done the right thing. This very sober analysis from the BBC makes quite clear that huge question-marks still hang over the issue of Megrahi’s actual criminal responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. It concludes thus:

    Megrahi was charged as a member of the Libyan Intelligence Services – acting with others.
    If he was involved, the Libyan government, once a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, including support for the IRA, must have been involved too.
    But with Britain and America doing big business with Libya now, perhaps it is in no-one’s political interests to have the truth emerge.
    Megrahi is now dying, but he may have been a convenient scapegoat for a much bigger conspiracy.

The warm welcome he got on his return to Tripoli indicates the high probability that he was indeed a Qadhafi-provided scapegoat.
In which case, all the angst and venom that has been directed against him personally, including by some but not all of those bereaved by the bombing, has been largely misplaced.
Of course, as always, it would be excellent to see even one-tenth as much US media attention paid to the sadness of such people as those Americans bereaved by the 1967 Liberty incident, or those Palestinians, Lebanese, and others bereaved by US-supplied Israeli weapons in more recent years.
Or even more so, the families of those scores of thousands of Iraqis killed by the US and as a result of the US outrageous and illegal invasion of their country in 2003.
The WaPo had a fascinating article Friday that described two Washington-area residents, both bereaved by the Lockerbie bombing, who had come to very different conclusions.
One was Anastasios Vrenios, 68, a singing teacher in Northwest Washington:

    Vrenios, whose son Nicholas was a passenger on Flight 103, is unbothered by the release of Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001. Vrenios said the terrorist merits a special mercy because of his grave prognosis. And continued imprisonment does nothing to eradicate terrorism, he argues.
    “I am thinking as a decent human being,” Vrenios said. “Let the man go and die in his own country — he’s dying anyhow. I am not going to say: ‘How dare you? Let’s go blow his head off.’ It’s the ill that has to be cured, and that’s a far more serious matter. I am just so disillusioned by man and the kind of thing he can resort to in this world.”

The other was Stephanie Bernstein, 58, a Bethesda rabbi, whose husband, Michael, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, was killed in the attack. (The OSI is a special unit of the Justice Department that for 30 years or so has been dedicated to hunting down Nazis around the world and bringing them before the courts.)
According to the WaPo reporter, Rabbi Bernstein

    worries that flying Megrahi home to Libya so he can live out his final days with family violates both a biblical sense of justice and a promise made by the court system that convicted him.
    Bernstein has been tracking Megrahi’s case for weeks, trying to persuade the Obama administration to strong-arm the Scottish government to keep Megrahi imprisoned.
    “Releasing him sends the wrong message,” she said. “It will be seen by [Libyan president] Col. Moammar Gaddafi as a sign of weakness. If we don’t try to work towards a just world, what good is this release?”

The very different reactions of these two people indicates very vividly that not “all” Americans– and not even “all” the families of those bereaved– are “incensed” by Megrahi’s release.
Indeed, families who are bereaved through acts of terrorism go through very different processes as they struggle with finding the best way to think about their bereavement. One of the best books on this subject is this one by Susan Kerr Van De Ven, daughter of Malcolm Kerr, the president of AUB who was killed by a terrorist, suspected to be a Shiite– on his campus, in 1983.
Van De Ven’s mother, Ann Kerr, is a dear friend of mine. The family has wrestled hard, for many years, with how to respond to Malcolm’s killing, and her daughter’s book is an excellent, intimate record of that.
In the work I’ve done on (anti-)death penalty issues here in Virginia, one thing that has surfaced again and again has been a feeling by some of those who have been bereaved through acts of violence that in order to honor the memory of their departed loved one it is somehow “necessary” to seek the harshest possible vengeance against the killer– and that if you don’t do that, then somehow that dishonors the lost loved one or diminishes his/her memory.
Of course, plenty of people in the legal system, the media– and even among pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders– are eager to validate and amplify those kinds of arguments.
Such arguments do, however, depart very radically from traditional Christian (and Buddhist) ideas of forgiveness. Also, how about the Old testament’s strong witness regarding “Vengeance is mine, said the Lord”–meaning, presumably, that vengeance should not be for mere mortals to dole out but should be left to the hereafter… And there are plenty of social activists and community leaders here in the US who urge a much less vengeful, calmer, and more constructive response to violently induced bereavement. Including, the people who work with the fine organization Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.
In sum: No, it doesn’t diminish the memory of someone killed in violence by one iota if their surviving family members deal with the tasks of grieving in a non-vengeful manner.
Indeed, quite frequently, just the opposite.

WP: “Truth About Forgiveness”

Today’s Washington Post (p. W8) features a compelling account of a father who 14 years ago lost a son — one of hundreds murdered every year in Baltimore. This father, Bernard Williams, nearly died from grief, until he figured out how to save himself from the pits of despair. He learned to forgive himself and … the killer of his son. It’s a gritty, heart-wrenching story; would any of us do as he did?
Williams received extraordinary help from a Lauren Abramson, a Johns Hopkins professor who runs a 11-year-old Community Conferencing Center, wherein “whole neighborhoods are invited to gather and solve problems.”
Abramson also facilitates conversations between victims and incarcerated offenders, in keeping with the worldwide “restorative justice movement.” Pioneered barely a quarter century ago by Howard Zehr, now of Eastern Mennonite University, the restorative justice method adjusts the focus away from punishing the perpetrator and towards the victim, emphasizing support for the afflicted, repairing the harm, and transforming all the parties.
Being an international politics specialist, I sat up and took note of the referenced benefits of forgiveness — as compared to the “benefits” of vengeance. Herein, we encounter Everett Worthington, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University:

Continue reading

Restorative justice in a DC church

Yesterday’s WaPo had a fascinating account of an innovative program the DC police is running, to offer people who are “fugitives” from the law a safe-seeming and humane way to come forward and resolve their situations. Significantly, it is based in one of the city’s big churches, the Bible Way church.
Thursday, in the first of three days the program will run, some 150 fugitives turned themselves in. Most of them were reportedly wanted in connection with nonviolent crimes. One man who came forward in connection with an assault and battery charge was arrested and taken away in handcuffs. The authorities reportedly offered “favorable consideration” to those who came forward.
WaPo journo Robert Pierre added these details:

    The effort is part of a national program that has resulted in more than 5,000 people with outstanding warrants coming forward in five other cities. Most have shown up with family members, and the vast majority said they might have kept running if not for the non-courthouse setting.
    “They talk about the safety and sanctity of the church,” said Kent State University professor Daniel Flannery, who has surveyed participants in all six cities.
    Participants yesterday expressed similar feelings as they arrived at Bible Way Church. They were greeted at the front door by volunteers, many of them members of the church, who guided them toward metal detectors set up inside.
    Dozens and dozens of law enforcement officers were present, although most of them were in the background, many out of sight of participants. Church ladies and pastors chatted with the arrivals, offering them something to eat or drink.
    Soon, however, participants were ushered into the basement, where the wheels of justice were in full motion. People were outfitted with wristbands, introduced to defense attorneys and moved to makeshift courtrooms, where judges heard their cases.
    In one of them, Rufus G. King III, chief judge of D.C. Superior Court, presided. Activity swirled all around: People hustled in and out, reporters requested interviews. Noise from adjacent “courts” crept over walls that didn’t reach the ceiling. The commotion became so overwhelming at one point that King signaled to an aide, who promptly gestured for quiet in the nearby hallway.
    Order restored for the moment, King whipped through cases, dismissing some, setting new court dates for others. As he dismissed one marijuana possession case, King told the man: “We all know that marijuana isn’t going to grow hair on your palms, but it will get you locked up. You got off of this case, but don’t get another one.”
    The man nodded and left, smiling…

I should note that the US is one of the world’s greatest incarcerators, now having more than two million people in jail. It is a vindictive, ill-organized, and largely dysfunctional system that leaves almost no room for the education and social rehabilitation of inmates. Instead, once behind bars, many of them become even further socialized into tough-guy, violent behaviors. And of course, their family ties are nearly completely disrupted and cut off; and yet another generation of kids is forced to grow up without fathers or– as is increasingly the case these days– mothers.
(And this system of so-called criminal “justice” is one that many well-meaning Americans want to export to all corners of the world??)
I am delighted that these churches are working with the court system to offer this alternative. What I see in this report has many aspects of the far more humane, life-affirming, and effective “restorative justice” approach to dealing with wrongdoers. Including that the offenders are welcomed into this program with family members accompanying them, rather than being forced to stand in a criminal dock alone; and they are treated with hospitality and respect by the “church ladies.”
My Quaker meeting in Charlottesville has been quite involved with offender-restoration projects in the city and region there; and more recently it has been working with the juvenile justice system to put in place some truly restorative justice procedures as an option, whenever possible. But as far as I know, the Bible Way church here in DC is far larger than most Quaker meetings. It is great that they’re doing this.

Saddam’s execution and the tragedy of Iraq

A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Institute of Peace organized this panel discussion, at which I got to present the main points in my latest book, which is about “transitional justice” issues in three African countries. (It was an excellent discussion. You can download an audio feed of it there.)
Most of the argument I made was a plea that the international community leave room for amnesties and other approaches to social healing as part of negotiations that successfully bring an end to atrocity-laden conflicts.
Toward the end of the session, Neil Kritz, a longtime USIP staffer who’s a lawyer and a big groundbreaker in the transitional justice field, threw me a friendly challenge, “Well, what about Saddam? He is so evidently a monster. What would you do about him?”
I didn’t really have time to answer Neil properly. Saddam is a “hard case” for an anti-death penalty person like me to think about. (Okay, I am also, in general, a fairly strongly critic of the entire theory of “punishment” as it has been conceived in western thought, and practised in western societies. I am much more in favor of restorative approaches to social healing as a way to increase justice, rather than retributive theories of enacting a formalized, highly legalistic form of “justice” against– as happens disproportionately– members of social groups that anyway start off as socially and politically marginalized.)
So what about Saddam?
I disagree with Neil, first, that the man is a “monster”. He is responsible for having carried out many monstrous acts, certainly. But that is significantly different. His having committed those acts doesn’t remove him from the class of human beings and put him in some sub-human category, like “monsters”, that can be dealt with in unhuman ways.
In northern Uganda, Joseph Kony has also– by all accounts– committed many acts of, if possible, even greater “monstrosity” than Saddam’s acts. Kony and his followers are credibly accused of having engaged not “just” in broad-scale murder, mutilation, and enslavement but also in sexual enslavement of thousands of girls, the impressment of thousands of child soldiers, and even cannibalism.
And yet, the vast majority of the Acholi people who have been the main targets of these acts have continued to urge that great efforts be made to reintegrate Kony into Acholi society.
Now, I know that the Acholi people have a very different culture from the Iraqi people; and I understand that in Iraq there are broad swathes of — in particular– Shiites and Kurds who have expressed great eagerness for Saddam to be executed. But I mentioned Kony and the attitudes of the Acholi towards him to show that there– and in many other places around the world, indeed– there is no automatic assumption, such as most westerners seem to hold to, that the victims/survivors of acts of monstrosity “always” want to see strong retribution/punishment enacted against their former persecutors, and that to “honor” these victims we who are outsiders to the issue should always support those calls for retribution.
Actually, I feel rather strongly that to do that merely infantilizes the victims.
There are many other cultures around the world, indeed– and also, I am sure, some smaller groups within Iraq’s Kurdish and Shiite communities– where survivors of acts of atrocity are not completely pandered to in this way, but are urged to play their own responsible part in helping build a future society of inter-group cooperation and tolerance, and the strengthening of the rule of law.
“An eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind.” That’s what Mahatma Gandhi said– and quite rightly so.
Regarding Saddam as such, I feel myself as a US citizen to be both an “outsider” regarding consideration of his case, and also– by virtue of my citizenship in a nation that has played such a huge role in bringing him to his present death sentence– indirectly a party to it.
I protest, loathe, and seek in every way to dissociate myself from the role my government has played in orchestrating this deeply flawed “trial” for Saddam Hussein.
As I wrote here, earlier today, there was at least one other, better path the US authorities in Iraq could have taken with respect to Saddam, once he had been captured alive. Instead of which, his case turned into into a highly divisive public spectacle within an Iraq that cried out for social healing, rather than for the further exacerbation of grave inter-group tensions.
I can understand– I think– why people from a number of social groups inside Iraq, and from Iran and Kuwait, may welcome the news of his execution, which will probably come very soon now. He did take some terribly aggressive decisions which rained death, destruction, and the lengthy privations of war down on millions of Iranians and Iraqis (and on the few thousands of courageous Kuwaitis who did not flee their princedom when his forces first invaded it in 1990.)
The worst acts Saddam committed were to gratuitously launch those two invasions of his neighbors– Iran in 1980, and Kuwait a decade later. For those wars not only led directly to death and destruction on the front-lines; beyond that, each of them also created a broader climate of fear and intense mistrust within which the Iraqi “security” forces committed horrendous atrocities against the country’s own people… Against Kurds and some Shiites in the 1980s. And then in 1991, horrendously, once again against large numbers of people from both those groups.
But honestly, without Iraq being in a climate of war at those times, I am sure that Saddam and the toadies from his mukhabarat would not have felt such a strong impetus to commit those atrocities. The root monstrosity was the monstrosity of starting those wars.
And then, there is President Bush, and his decision to gratuitously launch a war against Iraq in 2003; and all the later monstrosities that have occurred within an Iraq traumatized by that conflict and the lengthy and often grossly oppressive occupation that followed. Do we call Bush a “monster” because of the responsibility he must bear for a large proportion of this suffering? I don’t. Even though several things that have happened on his watch– in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo, and elsewhere round the world– have truly been acts of great monstrosity, for which he has never even started to make amends.
Saddam Hussein was a useful ally for the United States back in the 1980s. Let’s not forget that. And that alliance was sustained even though D. Rumsfeld and the other relevant people in the Reagan administration already knew full well that he was a man of great brutality.
I am sorry he is going to be killed. I am sorry whenever any of God’s children are intentionally killed by other humans. Any such killing– whether it’s carried out under the cover of a “judicial” process or not– makes the world a coarser and more brutal place.
In addition, it perpetuates the myth that if we can just kill enough of our enemies, then all our problems will be solved. No. Killing people whose acts we hate will never solve our problems. Finding ways to prevent them from carrying out such acts is the only thing that will; and there are many, many ways of achieving that. Very lengthy prison sentences is one way. Persuading these people to stop stop committing such acts and joining with us in building a better social order is even better…
Tonight I think I’m going to say a prayer for broad inter-group social healing among Iraqis. The last thing they need is yet more exacerbation of their inter-group tensions, such as this vindictive decision to execute Saddam Hussein threatens to bring. Let’s hope that enough Iraqis are cognizant enough of the risks of further social breakdown that they can find ways to avoid it.

Annals of the US punishment system: Percy Walton

The (Democratic) governor of our state, Timothy Kaine, today announced that he has delayed for a further 18 months the execution of Mr. Percy Walton, a 28-year-old African-American man. This delay is intended to give the state time to determine whether Walton is mentally fit to be executed.
As Frank Green, the excellent staff writer of the Richmond Times-Dispatch who follows death-penalty affairs in the state, wrote:

    Kaine said, “I am compelled to conclude that Walton is severely mentally impaired and meets the Supreme Court’s definition of mental incompetence.”
    The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a person is not competent to be executed if he is unaware of the punishment about to be suffered and why.
    Kaine said it was possible, though unlikely, that Walton’s mental impairment is not permanent. So, he said, a commutation of Walton’s sentence was not yet appropriate. He then delayed Walton’s execution until June 10, 2008, to permit fur- ther observation.

Walton is a man who by his own admission has done some very bad things. In 1997, Walton pled guilty to the 1996 murders of his neighbors Jessie Kendrick, 80, Elizabeth Kendrick, 81, and Archie D. Moore Jr., 33.
I find the idea that a state– a state, moreover, that claims to be acting in my name– would set out deliberately to kill one of its citizens to be horrifying, and barbaric. But even within the paradigm of the death penalty being “thinkable”, the Walton case raises some extremely perplexing issues. To be executed, the US Supreme Court has ruled, a person has to be mentally competent enough to understand what is about to happen to him?? How ghoulish is that?
And then, there is a whole series of questions about the responsibilities of mental-health professionals under these circumstances. Should it be the responsibility of a mental-health professional to improve Mr. Walton’s meantal-health status condition sufficiently that he then becomes “fit” to be executed?
According to Frank Green’s article, Walton has been under the care of mental health personnel employed by the Virginia Department of Corrections, and one of Walton’s lawyers has explained that it is these DOC personnel– and not Walton’s lawyers– who have determined the treatment that he should receive.
I wonder if it is mandatory under the law that a prisoner under these circumstances should follow any treatment course prescribed. (What if the prisoner is a Christian Scientist or has other religious-based objections to the procedures of physical medicine?) Generally, when the state forces a person with mental disabilities to follow a certain course of treatment this is justified only on the basis that it is to prevent the person causing harm to her/himself or others… But in this case, any mandating of treatment would be “justified” on the basis that the person should be made “fit” enough to have the state cause fatal harm to him.
The whole business is, of course, unspeakably tragic. If Virginia succeeds in killing Percy Walton, this won’t bring his victims back to life.
If these kind of questions interest you, go read the whole of Frank Green’s piece. You’ll find that the (Republican) Attorney-General of the state expresses impatience with the delays and just wants Kaine to get on with the execution. (I should note, though, that support for the death penalty here in Virginia does not break down along straight party lines. We’ve had at least one prominent Republican state legislator who came out very strongly against the death penalty. And Kaine, though he’s a Catholic, is not a complete opponent of the death penalty, at all…)
At the end of Green’s article is this appeal from a daughter of the elderly couple killed by Walton, that his death sentence simply be commuted– i.e., changed to a lengthy term of imprisonment– rather than having its ‘execution’ endlessly delayed:

    Barbara Case, of Brandon, Miss., daughter of the couple slain by Walton, said last night, “We don’t need another 18 months. It’s been 10 years.”
    “How is he going to get any better? Why didn’t he just commute his sentence,” she asked. Some relatives of the Kendricks have said in the past that they believe Walton should be executed.

The Weissglas “diet”

In a move eerily reminiscent of the Bush administration’s redefinition of “torture” to the point that “anything’s okay so long as the person doesn’t die or suffer permanent organ failure”, Dov Weissglas, the longtime adviser to Israeli premiers is now talking about projecting Israel’s war against Hamas onto the bodies of Palestinian children and other noncombatants.
This, from today’s HaAretz:

    “It’s like a meeting with a dietician. We have to make them much thinner, but not enough to die,” said the prime minister’s adviser Dov Weissglas.

A couple of posts ago, I was getting into a discussion about the quite foreseeable effects of a cutoff of external aid to the OPTs, which I said could lead to actual deaths from starvation.
I still think that. But to even get into that argument, it seems to me, is to set the bar for acceptable human behavior far, far too low. (Like the Bush definition of “torture.”)
After getting into that argument, it became clear to me that we should oppose all attempts to intentionally– in pursuit of a political objective– place any barriers at all on the flourishing of noncombatant persons. Just “not forcing them to starve” is ways too low a bar to hold up.
In a sense, nearly all of the present corpus of international humanitarian law as it has developed since the 1850s aims at separating civilian populations and other noncombatants from the harmful consequences of warfare. Certainly, any deliberate attempt to entangle civilians in a political battle between two political leaderships– in the way that, for example, Shimon Peres did in his disastrous April 1996 military aggression against Lebanon– should be completely rejected and opposed.
This is exactly the same basic principle that underlies the prohibition on terror attacks against civilians… There too the aim is to use the deliberate infliction of harm on civilians to sway the decisions made by political leaders.
In both cases, this deliberate entanglement of civilians in a political/military battle should be completely opposed.
Shimon Peres may claim (as indeed, he did to me in person in March 1998) that he “didn’t intend” to kill the 120-plus old people who were killed by IDF shelling in Qana. Ah yes, but what he and the rest of the Israeli leadership clearly did intend– and we know this because they said it very publicly at the time– was to put such huge pressure on the civilian population of Lebanon that they would rise up and beg their leaders to ‘cry uncle’ to Israel.
And along the way there, in the course of that panic-driven uprooting of one-third of the population of Lebanon (which yes, was enitrely a part of Peres’s plan… he said he wanted them to be forced to go to Beirut), quite predictably old people died and babies and the sick and infirm died, purely because of the uprooting. That was entirely foreseeable, given the record established during tens of previous rounds of IDF-spurred mass uprootings in Lebanon. Then on top of those foreseeable deaths, given the amount of lethal firepower used in the assault, it was not surprising at all that 120 old people ended up getting killed in Qana…
So anyway, as I said, that 1996 attempt to entangle a neighboring population in a hard-fought political battle ended up disastrously for nearly everyone concerned… except Hizbullah, which at that point won nearly all of its long-fought battle for the liberation of South Lebanon from Israeli occupation. (That victory didn’t fully unfold till 2000; but the strategic balance had tipped definitively in April 1996.)
See, here’s the thing about attempts to entangle civilian populations in violence and coercion: they very frequently backfire. I could argue this, certainly, about Peres’s pathetic and very harmful aggression in 1996. I think I could argue it convincingly about the terror campaign that Hamas and others waged against Israel’s civilian population since 1987… In both cases, the fact that the assault comes against civilians stiffens the reolve of civilians. It doesn’t cow them. (Maybe the Hamas leaders realized that. Maybe that’s why they agreed unilaterally to halt their operations against targets inside Israel back in February of last year?)
So where is Israel’s learning curve on this issue? Can’t Israel’s leaders, too, look back at the past (including April 1996 in Lebanon, but a lot of other occasions, too) and realize that this latest attempt to starve the Palestinians into submission is likewise doomed to fail?
That HaAretz piece goes on to say this:

    Some officials suggested separating the Palestinian population, which would continue receiving the aid, and its government. This was also the American administration’s position, it was said at the meeting.

Gosh, can these people really all be that stupid? But no, they’re not! Look at the next paragraph:

    Israeli National Security Council head Giora Eiland questioned whether separating the aid from the PA would be effective at all, since the overwhelming majority of Palestinian workers in the humanitarian organizations are Hamas people.

Exactly. (Readers might want to go back and check point #3 I made in this JWN post, Tuesday.)
… At a broader level, I must say I’m finding it a most enjoyable spectator sport, sitting here and seeing all these Israeli and US officials running round like headless chickens as they try to figure out how to respond to Hamas’s electoral victory. (All except Giora Eiland, that is. A very sensible man.)

Kenya: prison inmates showing compassion

Thhe BBC reported yesterday that in kenya, tens of thousands of prison inmates were planning to skip a meal today to raise money for compatriots affected by droughts.
This story is so moving. (Hat-tip to Carol who sent it to me.)
The piece quoted Simon Ole Sakrop, described as a death row inmate, as saying: “Prisons have changed and we can afford to give our brothers some of our food rations without getting affected.” It also estimated that “up to 50,000 prisoners” had signed up to take part in the action, which was being coordinated by the Kenyan Red Cross Society.
The drought now blighting vast areas of north-east Kenya has been described by some people as “the Christmas famine.” This Dec. 30 report from Reliefweb says the following:

    In Kenya, an estimated 2.5 million people are predicted to require emergency food aid (at 100% food ration) and other non-food interventions. The situation is particularly serious in Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Kajiado… and also in Garissa, and Moyale districts, but other districts will also require emergency relief operations.

Violence, punishment, healing

I’m just back from a 3.5-mile run in 32-degree (F) weather. The air was crisp and lovely but the sun too low for my comfort and the footing often icy. But I still got a good buzz out of the run.
I was thinking through some sad things that have been happening. I have a good friend in a distant state who’s had some really scary-sounding brain surgery today… There is still no word since last Thursday about the fate of the CPT-ers in Iraq… Yesterday, the son of my long-time friend and colleague Ghassan Tueni was killed in a hideous car-bomb in Beirut. His son, Gibran Tueni, left a wife and four daughters. How ghastly for Ghassan and for everyone else involved… Last night, late at night, the State of California deliberately killed a person, Tookie Williams, who in recent years has been a great force for good in the world… And the fighting goes on and on in Iraq, even though the voting has already started in the current election.
There is so much violence in the world. Much of it is carried out with a strong motivation of “punishing” the targeted party… and is based on the perpetrators’ strong conviction that they are right.. (I remember a great quote from Ian Buruma in one of his books of essays. He had grown up in Netherlands after World War 2… In the essay he was reflecting on that, and on the view he imbibed as a child there about his people’s German neighbors. “They were bad,” he wrote. “Therefore, we were good.” Think about that “therefore.”)
But what, really are the goals of punishment? They can be thought of as many, including but not limited to these:

    — to “re-educate” a former wrongdoer,
    — to underscore the importance of society’s laws and norms,
    — as a pure power play: to try to demonstrate that “our side” is strong, and “their side” is weak,
    — to give satisfaction to the desires of former victims (some of which may be legitimate; but some may not be).

Of all those motivations, I think only the “power play” one is a constant.
I’ve written quite a bit about how I think that, in the aftermath of wrongdoing, thinking about mending/healing/reparating the torn fabric of society is much more important that trying to “settle scores”, to “get even”, or to do any of the other things that punishment is classically supposed to do.
Anyway, it feels like a day for some reflection here.