Eugene Volokh says that it's just and right for Iran to brutally torture a serial killer to death. Of the killer,

Mohammad Bijeh, 24, dubbed "the Tehran desert vampire" by Iran's press, was flogged 100 times before being hanged.

A brother of one of his young victims stabbed him as he was being punished. The mother of another victim was asked to put the noose around his neck.

The execution took place in Pakdasht south of Tehran, near where Bijeh's year-long killing spree took place.

The killer was hoisted about 10 metres into the air by a crane and slowly throttled to death in front of the baying crowd.

Hanging by a crane - a common form of execution in Iran - does not involve a swift death as the condemned prisoner's neck is not broken. ...

The crimes of Mohammed Bijeh and his accomplice Ali Baghi had drawn massive attention in the Iranian media.

They reportedly tricked children to go with them into the desert south of Tehran by saying they were going to hunt animals. They then poisoned or knocked their victims out, sexually abused them and buried them in shallow graves.

Professor Volokh writes:

I particularly like the involvement of the victims' relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he'd killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. The one thing that troubles me (besides the fact that the murderer could only be killed once) is that the accomplice was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but perhaps there's a good explanation.

I am being perfectly serious, by the way. I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness. I think it slights the burning injustice of the murders, and the pain of the families, to react in any other way.

Clayton Cramer disagrees as such:

What I find especially disturbing is the notion, expressed by Professor Volokh, that this torturous revenge constitutes justice. Does it bring back the dead children? Does it go back in time and prevent their suffering? Does it make the living less traumatized by what happened to their children? No.

There's a famous quote by Gandhi, "An eye for an eye will blind the world." Perhaps executing monsters like this makes sense, especially if you live in a society where it is impossible to keep them locked up for life, or where powerful forces (like the ACLU) argue that murderers should not be executed, but people who have committed no crime should be starved to death [Terry Schiavo]. Adding torture to the execution doesn't do anything but lower our society to the level of the savages.

I've never really liked that quote by Gandhi, because I don't think it's true. The Biblical standard for punishment is laid down not for personal revenge, but for justice imposed by the public.

Leviticus 24:17-22

17 " 'If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone's animal must make restitution-life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. 22 You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.' "

Despite what Gandhi asserted, most of us don't intentionally attack or violate other people, or even cause property damage for which restitution must be made. Perhaps if these instructions for punishment were taken as license for vigilantism I could see Gandhi's point, but that's obviously not the intent.

As for Professor Volokh's original position, I think it's clear that he's right from a Biblical perspective. God commands that the punishment fit the crime, and it is by his divine authority that human agents are justified (and required) to carry out those punishments against another human being.



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