My opinion on the death penalty is that I am on the fence with on leg standing on the pro side. It is not so much that the arguments for death penalty are good but rather it is the arguments against death penalty that seems more problematic. It is somewhat like voting for a person not because you want him but because you do not want the other. I do not think I will actively fight for the death penalty but I have no problem defending its application.
I have followed this case partly because of an old article by William Gibson with regards to Singapore where he called the country "Disneyland with the Death Penalty". I will present them by stating the reason against the death penalty followed by its rebuttal.
A) Rebuttals to Arguments Against Death Penalty
1) Any Deterrence?
People against the death penalty argue that there is little to no deterrence at all thus striking at the heart of one of the favorite argument for people supporting the death penalty.
Rebut: The statistics point in different directions. However, even assuming that there is no deterrence that is no reason to stop the punishment. If imprisonment has no deterrence on a crime does that mean that the criminal should then be set free? No, it is because there are other policiy considerations to sentencing.
2) Error in Conviction: Not Applicable
Perhaps one of the strongest reasons against the death penalty is that the Judicial System is not perfect and there may be errors.
Rebut: This however is not applicable in the present case as the person was caught with drugs tied around his body. And when asked at custom what was strapped to his back he replied "It's heroin, sir" In any event the solution to judicial errors is to implement better safeguards and to ensure that there are no errors especially in capital cases.
3) Logic Maxim
One of the popular maxim used against the death penalty as expressed by Victor Hugo is: "What does the law say? You will not kill! How does it say it? By killing!" It is state sanctioned murder.
Rebut: Is it not similarly odd to imprison someone when the person had criminally trapped another person in his own basement? Every punishment is an act that removes a freedom of the person, it is the whole concept of punishment. Therefore this maxim sounds logical until we expand it to other punishments and realise that it is perhaps flawed logically.
4) Only for the most Terrible Crime
Another common argument made by some is that the Death Penalty should only be used for the most terrible crime. Thus it is common for support of death penalty to increase at such time.
Rebut: Drug Trafficking is however a terrible crime. Every year more than 300 Australians die from drug overdose, which is much more than those who died in the Bali Bombing. Just because death from drug overdose is not as sensational and may occur overtime it does not mean that the impact is minimal or should be ignored, especially since the traffickers are dealing in death so as to make money.
5) Mother Argument
The effects of a death penalty does not operate in a vacuum and that the loved ones of the person may suffer.
Rebut: As much as the parent may suffer as a result of the punishment it is of little relevance to the trial and sentence itself. If it is accepted that the suffering of the loved ones is a mitigating factor then logically it too should apply to imprisonment or almost any other punishment since the loved ones would also suffer. Furthermore, what then about the loved ones of the victims, to the extent that they are not opposed to the death penalty, would they not also have suffered greatly from the actions of the accused?
Arguments For the Death Penalty:
The death penalty is a punishment that has the support of the people in Singapore. Furthermore, the opinion polls in Australia shows that there are more people in favor of the death penalty than against it but both opinions are not in the majority since there is a significant amount of people who have no opinion on the matter.
Rebut: The mere fact that a law is well supported does not mean that it is right. Thus even if the majority of a population supports discrimination it does not mean that it is right to pass such a law. This is a strong argument which has been accepted by some courts although some people who are against the death penalty may muddle this up by adopting the following sentiment that "death is too good" and that the person should suffer in prison. Therefore it has been argued that the Death Penalty is a cruel punishment which invokes the above exception to majority rule. (The following rebuttal is a bit long and gets a bit complicated)
Counter: In contrast to discrimination or torture there is no additional factors against the death penalty. Thus for discrimination we may argue that it violates issues of equality, harms the economy and create potential groups of people who may decide to overthrow the government that oppresses them. Or for torture, its use as a method of extracting information or confession is unreliable. However there is no such over-arching concern that is tied with the death penalty.
Therefore the basis for saying the death penalty is a cruel and inhumane punishment lies in the majority of the citizens adopting such a position, which in the present case suggest that the majority of the citizens would not agree that it is cruel. This is further evidenced from the actions of the Australian government with regard to their tacit support of the use of the death penalty and its refusal to make a protest against its use on the people behind the Bali Bombings, when about 55% of Australians approved the death penalty in such a case.
C) Side Issues
7) Against Death Penalty or Special Rules
Is the Australians are protesting, against the use of the death penalty or that special rules should be adopted for their citizens. If they are indeed against all death penalty then they should have protested on behalf of other people who have been convicted with the death penalty across the globe. But that does not seem to be the case unlike the position of Amnesty International which consistently supports the position.
8) Media Bias
Recent Stories: There seem to be a number of drug related Australian stories in recent months, such as the woman in Indonesia, to the model who is seeking to sell her story on her drug conviction in Indonesia to the highest bidder, the school kids on field trip, etc. Is this something the media just decide to pick up upon or is this reflective of a larger trend?
Twin Debt: I also noticed that the articles often talk about him trafficking in drugs to repay his brother's debt. However, what is less reported is that the debt stemmed from legal cost arising from the brother's drug related criminal charges.