“Are you for or against the death penalty, or (if its conditional), in what cases? Furthermore, do you believe that societies that sanction war are hypocritical for opposing the death penalty?”
The answer, of course, is complicated.
As I’ve said before, I know that there are some truly heinous people out there. I have no inherent moral objection to putting Osama bin Laden to death. Of course, bin Laden wants do die, and killing him will make him a martyr, so I guess I don’t think it would even be good policy there.
That said, too many people on death row are entirely unlike bin Laden. Too many didn’t actually kill or harm anyone, they were just railroaded into a death sentence. Too many of the guilty people on death row could be productive members of society if anyone bothered to work with them.
The difference between locking someone in jail forever (my preference) and killing them outright is twofold. First, you can let someone out of jail. They can rehabilitate or be exonerated, and that can’t happen after the needle is taken out. The second reason is deeper. I don’t want blood on my hands, and when the government kills, the stain is on all of us.
From the latter angle, it’s hard to see how war could be justifiable, but I’m more tolerant of war in principle. Maybe it’s just that killing one person in a methodical way is different from the scramble of a battlefield, or maybe it’s the sheer mass of casualties in war that I find different.
But I think the distinction is simpler. A person on death row is caught, and can be held harmless forever. A combatant at war may only be stoppable with force. The analogy is closer to allowing a police officer to use deadly force in certain well-defined settings.
It is in this sense that the Iraq war is a moral disaster. Iraq was contained, and we could have used less violent means to verify that there were no WMD, and even to encourage the growth of civil society without Saddam’s influence. But we took this nation which was trapped already and we proceeded to kill it in cold blood. The harm it does in its death throes is bad enough, that it is our fault is the crushing part.