Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anders Behring Breivik. Does he deserve the death penalty?

Anders Behring Breivik at court two days ago
In a post dated July 23rd. 2011, I wrote the following: "That individuals can come to believe that they should have power over others, and arrogate to themselves such power over the lives of others without the democratic authority of anyone, save their own deluded will, is in itself one of the greatest wrongs any of us can commit. That a lone gunman and bomber can decide that he has the right to exercise the power of life and death through bomb and bullet over anyone is delusion in the extreme." (See here  for the full post).

Arguments against the Death Penalty

The following are some of the arguments against the death penalty that I have both heard and used over the years: (i) We are reducing ourselves (through the State) to the level of the murderer, and this in itself is contradictory.  Afterall, human life is precious and we are about to take away another human life.  (ii) There are documented cases of people, wrongly accused and convicted of murder, who have paid the ultimate price only to be proved innocent many years after they had forfeited their lives. (iii) The fact that capital punishment is on the statute books does not in itself bring down the numbers of murderous crimes. (iv) Carrying out capital punishment with premeditation and with great cerermony is in itself somewhat warped.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) clarifies the following points with respect to Capital Punishment:

The ACLU’s opposition to capital punishment incorporates the following fundamental concerns:

  • The death penalty system in the US is applied in an unfair and unjust manner against people,largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place. People of color are far more likely to be executed than white people, especially if thevictim is white

  • The death penalty is a waste of taxpayers money and has no public safety benefit. The vast majority of law enforcement professionals surveyed agree that capital punishment does not deter violent crime; a survey of police chiefs nationwide found they rank the death penalty lowest among ways to reduce violent crime. They ranked increasing the number of police officers, reducing drug abuse, and creating a better economy with more jobs higher than the death penalty as the best ways to reduce violence. The FBI has found the states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates.

  • Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Since 1973, over 138 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed.
(See here for the ACLU webpage)

However, Anders Behring Breivik is no ordinary murderer, he is a cold-blooded mass-muderer who shows not even one whit of regret, never mind guilt or remorse.  The newpaper columns reporting his current trial in Oslo are chilling to say the least. , Chief Foreign Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph, who is present in the court to witness the sheer calculated indifference of this mass murderer, has this to say:

For six hours of testimony, day after day, his tone of voice scarcely altered. Whether Anders Behring Breivik was describing how he shot a teenage girl through the head, or disclosing that he named his rifle “Gungnir” after the magical spear of Odin, he addressed the court in the flat monotone of the failed telephone salesman he once was...

In the space of an hour and a half, he murdered 67 with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, 33 of whom were under the age of 18. The youngest was a girl of only 14. Another two youthful campers drowned when they fled, panic-stricken, into the sea.

Breivik spoke about this for 90 uninterrupted minutes, piling detail on detail: among other things, he described exactly what happens when a high-velocity round strikes the human cranium. As he spoke, a handful of survivors quietly stood up and left the court. A few others wept silent tears. Norwegian television pulled the plug on his more disturbing testimony. (see here for the full chilling account).

The restraint of the Norwegian people is impressive.  We get the impression of a very cultured, humane and liberal people.  I remember one of our own cultured and humane politicians, one Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien once saying that "I may not agree with your viewpoint, but I would argue for your right to express it."  However, I'm sure, indeed very certain, that Dr. O' Brien never had such fascist views as those of Anders Behring Breivik in mind.

The American political and moral philosopher John Bordley Rawls (1921 - 2002) wrote the classic and influential  A Theory of Justice in 1971.  It is now a primary text in practically all politcal philosophy courses worldwide. His work in political philosophy, dubbed Rawlsianism, takes as its starting point the argument that "most reasonable principles of justice are those everyone would accept and agree to from a fair position." 

Another quotation from Rawls which I like is: “[E]ach person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.”

That Breitvik has broken every basic right human and civil right in his mass murder goes without question.  Then, returning to David Blair's reporting of the current case, one gets an insight into the mind of a very cold and calculating mass-murderer (obviously sane in this matter-of-factness of his account of his murdering spree):

“The objective was not to kill 69 people on Utoya island, the objective was to kill all of them,” he told the court in flat, unemotional tones. The aim of the gun attack was to “detonate” panic that would cause all his targets to flee into the sea and drown. “The water was the weapon of mass destruction,” he added.

And remorse? Breivik made clear that he felt none. “I stand by what I have done, and I would have done it again,” he said emphatically. The teenagers on the island had been attending a summer camp organised by the Norwegian Labour party. As such, they were “not innocent” but “political activists” and “supporters of multiculturalism”. In his mind, that was enough to make them “legitimate targets”. (See above linkarticle)

No regret about the murder of all these innocent people at all is shown in the above.  In fact, these poor people were but "political activists," "Marxists" and "supporteres of multiculturalism."


How, in the name of any principles of right acting and right thinking, can one allow such sheer hatred of all that humanity represents at its best; such sheer indifference to the wrongful taking of innocent life;  such lack of guilt and such determination to stick by his misguided beliefs - even to the extent of admitting that his only regret was not to have killed everyone on the island on that fateful day; to go unpunished by the only reasonable punishment, namely that of execution?  Notwitstanding the fact that I am a committed pacifist, and also a subscriber to Amnesty International and also to the abolition of the death penalty in general, I believe, like other rational human beings, that this case is so horrendous that the only one possible answer is capital punishment in this case.  How one could argue differently, I fail to comprehend at this moment in time.