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Terrorist Horror, Then Golf

The title of this entry is taken from yesterday's headline in that right wing rag, the New York Times.  It refers, of course, to President Obama's ostensibly somber and angry news conference about the videotaped beheading of an American citizen by Islamic butchers, followed forthwith by a few rounds on the links.

As the Times points out, the contrast was a bit much even for the President's usual allies:

He had just hung up the telephone with the devastated parents before heading in front of the cameras. Unusually emotional, President Obama declared himself "heartbroken" by the brutal murder of an American journalist, James Foley, and vowed to "be relentless" against Islamic radicals threatening to kill another American.

But as soon as the cameras went off, Mr. Obama headed to his favorite golf course on Martha's Vineyard, where he is on vacation, seemingly able to put the savagery out of his mind. He spent the rest of the afternoon on the links even as a firestorm of criticism erupted over what many saw as a callous indifference to the slaughter he had just condemned....

[T]e criticism went beyond the usual political opponents. Privately, many Democrats shook their heads at what they considered a judgment error. Ezra Klein, editor in chief of the online news site Vox, who is normally sympathetic to Mr. Obama, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that "golfing today is in bad taste." The Daily News published a front-page photograph of a grinning president in a golf cart next to a picture of Mr. Foley's distraught mother and father under the headline, "Prez tees off as Foley's parents grieve."

To be honest, I think the story is overblown.  The question is not how the President feels about it; the question is what he does about it, and thus far the answer is nothing.  Earlier this year, Obama dismissed ISIS, the terror group behind this atrocity, as the "jayvee."  Look, a beheading here, a flogging there.........can we move on to something serious?  Or at least to the golf cart?

There is one other point lurking here.  The NYT recognizes that sawing a hostage's head off with a knife is barbarism, but goes conspicuously silent on what should be done if and when the killer is caught.

To me and I strongly suspect most other Americans, the answer is obvious:  The death penalty.  The idea that a term in the slammer, no matter what its length, is justice for a crime that harkens the second coming of the Dark Ages is somewhere beyond absurd.  The NYT cannot help but understand this, but is on record opposing the death penalty no matter what the facts. So its only recourse is silence  --  that plus a diversionary story about the President's sentiments and how they are perceived.  

Still, if that is to be the take on this, a picture of the President's seriousness and resolve is worth a thousand words.


His smiling face on the golf course aside, the real question is what, if anything, is he doing that the public and the media are not privy to in order to annihilate ISIS?

Decencyevolves: The Awl had a trenchant take on this topic:

"I don't know, was the president's golfing really something that "many saw as a callous indifference?" Are these "many" people actually just political pundits and their audiences of news hobbyists and partisans? Are these pundits and enthusiasts concerned with the president's responsibility to set an example with right and proper grieving? Are they protesting on behalf of a victim's family? Or are they actually the craven ones, for turning a gruesome death into a question of political optics (for no practical cause! not even in the service of defeating or promoting a candidate or campaign! out of pure psychopathy or nihilism!) and changing the subject so quickly, from the matter at hand to the public relations value of the manner in which the matter at hand is being handled? "Should he really be playing golf right now?" is as stupid now as it was a decade or a century ago. It imagines an appropriate presidential schedule as follows: One hour of flesh mortification, one hour of reading history, one hour of negotiating with world leaders, one hour of begging for forgiveness from citizens, repeated five times daily, televised. Before work, kiss the family for the camera. After work, go to church in public. Sleep for four hours, if necessary. Sleep is not leadership! The optics of sleep are terrible: Why does the president sleep while others are tired?"

This is the entire piece--

1. The NYT is not exactly among those looking for opportunities for a cheap shot at Obama. Indeed, it was the Times that covered for him by labeling his repeat fraudulent assurance that "if you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance" an "incorrect promise." I actually laughed when I read that one.

2. That said, as I noted in the text, I think the stories about Obama's feelings are overblown. He's feelings are not that important. What's important is what he DOES.

3. You say, quoting the article, "...changing the subject so quickly, from the matter at hand..."

That, I think, is a fair enough criticism. So let's address the matter at hand. One such matter is what force we use to eliminate this bunch of savages. Another, as I noted, is whether, if and when this particular calculating decapitator is captured, we impose the death penalty.

Can you give any reason particular to this case -- not general ideology or general objections -- but a reason particular to this case that a jury should be absolutely forbidden to consider the death penalty here?

This isn't going to be handled by courts. It's an act of war and will likely be interpreted as such. No one will be captured. Osama Bin Laden certainly wasn't. ISIS fighters who lived by the sword will die by the missile, or perhaps by the gun, should they run afoul of soldiers from any of the countries or regions that surround their new "state." For once, everyone in the area should be able to get on one page--ISIS is a threat to the stability of everyone.

A deft evasion but not a convincing one. The infamous "American Taliban" was caught on the battlefield, and the 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, was captured and tried in my former district in Virginia (the death penalty was considered by the jury but not imposed).

So I will ask again: Assuming that the decapitator is captured, can you give any reason particular to this case -- not general ideology or general objections -- but a reason particular to this case that a jury should be absolutely forbidden to consider the death penalty?

This isn't Afghanistan and there isn't a third country, like Pakistan, to flee to where we might scoop them up. The likelihood of American ground troops engaging ISIS also is vanishingly small. It's unnecessary and the American public have no stomache for it after the fiasco of Iraq. I think your hypothetical is never gone to happen and has no possibility of happening. Military aims are what the US and surrounding countries should and will be focused on, as they should be. The criminal law is quite secondary to all of that.

That said, if the individuals who carrid out this awful crime were somehow captured and spent the rest of their lives in a tiny cell in Florence ADX until they died of old age, I'd be ok with that. As a policy matter, I don't think the death penalty is superior to LWOP, and if the US Code provided only for a Life Without Parole sentence, that would please rather than trouble me. There are those who feel that anything less than an eye for an eye is barbarism. I would prefer that the governments that represent me hold themselves to a higher standard.

Thank you for your answer.

1. I think it overwhelming likely that members of ISIS, as bad or worse than this one, will be captured. Example: A SEAL team lands in an Iraqi village at night, uses a stun grenade and/or puts a disabling wound in one or more of these characters. You don't then just shoot them in the head; you capture them, for interrogation/intelligence value if nothing else.

Then what?

Then you put them on trial for murder is what, just like we are eventually going to put KSM on trial.

If and when convicted, what is the just sentence?

2. Your second paragraph is somewhat but not wholly responsive to the question, which was: Can you give any reason particular to this case -- not general ideology or general objections -- but a reason particular to this case that a jury should be absolutely forbidden to consider the death penalty?

I asked it as a way of showing why a never-say-never view of punishment does not work. The crime here was cold, hideous, cruel and sadistic beyond the belief of normal people. Someone who commits such a murder has put himself outside the boundaries of civilized life. He is also extremely dangerous, since the conscience that operates in almost all of the rest of the human race simply does not exist in him. It is just not possible for a normal person to envision using a knife, no less, to saw off the head of a bound, helpless man who has done no harm.

It has nothing to do with "an eye for any eye," a phrase neither Kent nor I has ever, to my knowledge, used in supporting the death penalty. It has to do with the only justice that fits the crime. Sitting in a prison cell getting lifetime sustenance and medical care (including, we are now informed in other contexts, a sex change operation) is not the answer a serious society can give.

You would tie the jury's hands by refusing to allow it even to consider imposing a constitutional punishment with a long historical pedigree, and one that an overwhelming majority would want if not demand. I, by contrast, would not so bind the jury.

You, and most assuredly Kent, have an ideological commitment in favor of the death penalty and I have an ideological commitment against it. CJLF devotes extraordinary legal resources to supporting the death penalty in cases throughout America; that has been a large part of Kent's life work. I understand CJLFs position and you understand mine. I believe that when governments execute individuals who could be housed in prison for the rest of their lives, they lower themselves to the level of those they condemn. You believe that governments should be permitted to execute individuals and that the death penalty serves salutary purposes. In fact, you believe that governments that allow individuals to remain alive in prisons for the rest of their lives for the very worst of crimes aren't giving an answer to crime "that a serious society can give." Apart from the United States, western industrialized powers have eschewed the death penalty and in my mind remain serious societies on the issue of crime. More than a dozen states no longer have the death penalty and they remain serious about crime. We will agree to disagree on this one.

As for KSM, if a life sentence is good enough for Gary Ridgeway and Zacarias Moussaoui, it can suffice for him as well.

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