The ancient rabbis who wrote the Talmud (in modern-day Falluja, incidentally) understood something very important about capital punishment that we in this country–to say nothing of those in Iraq–seem to have forgotten. It’s not that capital punishment is philosophically indefensible, as some suggest. Extreme as this sanction is, there are some crimes for which the only just punishment is death, and to my mind Saddam Hussein fully deserved to be executed.
The problem with capital punishment is that it is nearly indefensible from a practical point of vie: How do you create a system with enough safeguards to guarantee the rights of the defendant? How do you create enough certainty about the correctness of the verdict? How do you execute in a way that still protects the dignity of the victim and of the society that carries it out, and how do you ensure that the aftermath of the punishment will lead to more healing and not more recriminations?
All of these vital questions are exhaustively taken up by the rabbis who, in a brilliant act of ingenuity, proclaim the theoretical possibility of capital punishment while simultaneously putting so many safeguards in place as to make it almost impossible in practical terms. The current situation in Iraq bears witness to what happens when the rush to punish outstrips the demands of justice.