In light of the extradition of two ISIS agents to the US, Comment Editor Alex Cirant-Taljaard argues that the death penalty can never be justified
Living in the UK, there are many things we take for granted. Relatively easy access to clean water and food, healthcare free at the point of use, and the knowledge that the barbaric practice of capital punishment, which has not been in place since 1965, is gone for good. Or so I thought.
While public opinion has long been in favour of reinstating the death penalty, successive governments have resisted its reinstitution. However, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid has not blocked the US government’s plan to extradite two ISIS agents from Syria into its own jurisdiction. Javid has done this knowing full well that they could be put to death. So, while the British government are not themselves carrying out a death sentence, Javid is leaving the fates of two people who, while members of ISIS, are British, in the hands of a nation who have executed almost 1,500 people since 1976.
There have been a number of arguments made as to why the US should be able to do whatever they want with the pair. Some even argue that we should be carrying out a death sentence ourselves. After all, these are members of ISIS, a terrorist group responsible for death and destruction on an enormous scale. Of course, their body count pales in comparison to that of the US and UK; but then, you can’t put an entire nation-state in an electric chair.
Either way, surely two men who had a part in such violence should face the harshest punishment available. And if they are to face a death sentence, why not round up all of the UK’s murderers, rapists and child molesters? We could rid the world of them once and for all. We could wipe out all of our undesirables, and prevent future crimes, thereby effectively eradicating violent crime. Just look at the US, they have capital punishment and the lowest crime rate in the world. Oh wait, sorry, the US actually had over 17,000 homicides in 2016.
Clearly, the death penalty is not an effective tool to prevent crime. Still, if people have already committed violent crimes, don’t they deserve a harsh punishment? Why should the taxpayer be funding these criminals in prison when we could just get them out of the way? Personally, and maybe this is just because I’m a bleeding-heart snowflake, I don’t condone any state-sanctioned killing, be it via capital punishment, drone striking or so called democratic intervention. But morals aside, isn’t it more pragmatic to prevent violent criminals draining society’s resources?
Not really, no. There is a laundry list of miscarriages of justice in the UK, people who have been convicted of crimes, many violent and potentially punishable by death if that were an option. The face of the matter is, our criminal justice system is incredibly unjust. It is institutionally biased against working class and minority people. Because of this, we cannot allow punishments that cannot be reversed and, barring Lazarus-esque resurrections, capital punishment is pretty irreversible. If just one person were to be unlawfully executed, any potential benefits the death penalty holds would be void. I categorically do not trust our government and court system to not abuse and misuse the power of capital punishment.
However, these two ISIS agents are almost certainly guilty of a litany of unforgivable crimes. One could certainly argue that in this case, an exception could be made. Except, capital punishment is a bell which cannot easily be unrung. A majority of the UK already support bringing back the death penalty. The extradition and execution of these men will set a precedent I fear could lead to countless innocent lives being taken.
A fellow Comment Writer wrote that liberal pundits in the UK, who are silent over attacks in Yemen and US drone striking, are hypocrites for their anger over the extradition of these ISIS militants. I, for one, completely agree. These pundits are complete hypocrites – but that doesn’t make them wrong about the death penalty. Whatever the eventual outcome for these ISIS terrorists is, we cannot allow it to be used as a trojan horse to reintroduce such a barbaric practice to the UK.