Saturday, February 09, 2008

In December, the State of New Jersey put a heralded moratorium on the death penalty. Just yesterday, Nebraska ended the use of the electric chair, giving this reason (courtesy Andrew Sullivan, a sharp conservative writer, who cited the decision):

We recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer. But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it. Condemend [sic] prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes. And the evidence clearly proves that unconsciousness and death are not instantaneous for many condemned prisoners. These prisoners will, when electrocuted, consciously suffer the torture that high voltage electric current inflicts on the human body. The evidence shows that electrocution inflicts intense pain and agonizing suffering. Therefore, electrocution as a method of execution is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Nebraska Constitution.”

There’s a lot to remain proud of in these United States. We are a humane people, and nearly a decade of arch-reactionary, authoritarian (mis)rule cannot, could not, and will not change that. I would also add that it is a hallmark of a civilized society that we punish terrorism without practicing terror.

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