Caps on Capital Punishment
A court in Pakistan has sentenced Mumtaz Qadri, the self admitted assassin of Salman Tasseer, to death. Though this decision has been celebrated by some liberals in Pakistan, it should not be used as a reason to advocate for expanding the use of the capital punishment. The overuse of the death penalty in the US has resulted in grave injustice by a system marred by discrimination and equipped with more effective and less brutal means of deterring citizens from committing crimes. However, when it comes to brazen terrorist attacks in Pakistan, the death penalty could be used to remedy the seemingly “untouchable” nature of extremists and deter them from their violent paths.
The first difference between the death penalty in the US and Pakistan is the type of crime that triggers its implementation. In the US, the majority of capital punishment cases result from a murder taking place. While some murders go unsolved, the work of law enforcement and well-funded prosecutors offices makes it highly unlikely that a murder can occur without someone facing punishment. Further, there is an absolute stigma in American society that rebukes a murderer and wishes to subject them to the fullest extent of the law. There are several deterrent factors that stop criminals from breaking the law in the US outside of capital punishment, and thus one could do away with the death penalty without a negative effect on crime rates.
Conversely, in Pakistan, the current discussion is based around the use of capital punishment in terrorism cases, where police and prosecutors have traditionally not done an adequate job of bringing perpetrators to justice. Many accuse Pakistan’s prosecutors of being inefficient and allowing terrorists to act without fear of a criminal prosecution. Many prosecutors answer that their lack of success is due to shoddy police work, where there isn’t enough evidence collected to meet legal standards. Further, the same societal taboo that exists in America against murders doesn’t always exist for extremists and terrorists in Pakistan, who draw limited support from the public. Thus, one can argue that the death penalty is a necessary deterrent in Pakistan rather than the US, because the criminal might not fear the public or prosecutor, but will fear the possibility of facing the guillotine or lethal injection.
Advocates for the death penalty in the US claim that while some of the criminals facing execution can be reformed, what does one do about serial killers and mass murders who are either deranged or ideologically motivated to kill? Individuals like the D.C. Sniper, who killed nearly a dozen innocent people, are used as an example for when there is no chance of reforming the individual, making the death penalty justified.
However, these are outlier cases, and the large majority of murderers in America are products of their environment, not ideologically connected to their violent act. Unfortunately, many of the individuals in Pakistan who commit terrorist acts, like the murder of Salman Tasseer, do so out of an ideological belief. This belief goes as far as to state that you should sacrifice your own life in the name of “jihad.” Thus, while one could give life imprisonment to a murderer in the US to reform the individual and address the socio-economic conditions surrounding their crime, no such hope exists from some of Pakistan’s brazen and hardened terrorists who have declared war on the state.
This leads us to the final distinction between the US and Pakistan’s use of capital punishment: the claims of innocence by the accused, or lack thereof. In the US an overwhelming majority of individuals on death row deny committing their crime. In fact, studies have been shown that, due to the amount of appeals an American inmate can file, it is cheaper for the state to imprison an individual for life than to prove they committed their crime through all levels of appeal. Thus, some argue that whenever there is an element of doubt that the accused might be innocent, the death penalty should not be used because there is a chance that the state could kill an innocent person.
On the opposite end, from the Il Ud-Din case in Colonial India to Mumtaz Qadri, individuals facing the death penalty not only publicly admit their guilt, but demand the public’s support for their heinous actions. The defense by Mumtaz Qadri’s lawyers was not that he did not kill the victim, but that he was justified in doing so because the victim provoked the action. Thus, unlike the lingering doubt that an individual is innocent in the US and should not face the death penalty, such a doubt doesn’t exist for these terrorist cases, where the killers proudly admit their guilt.
Before rejoicing at the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri, one should also keep in mind the ways in which the death penalty in the US has led to utter injustice. Not only do African-Americans and Mexican- Americans account for 89 per cent of those executed by the state, the skin color of the victim also effects a jury’s decision to impose the death penalty. Studies have found that juries are more likely to execute an individual if their victim was white, rather than a minority. In many ways, the usage of the death penalty reflects the inequality and discrimination that exists within American society.
Such inequalities exist in Pakistan’s society as well, with divisions based on gender, class, ethnicity, and religious belief. Thus, there is a potential for the death penalty to be used against the nation’s minorities. However, there have also been hundreds of brazen terrorist attacks against innocent citizens that show no sign of slowing down. Capital punishment, when administered in such terrorism cases where a defendant publicly admits his guilt, may deter future attacks against Pakistan’s people. But one must limit their advocacy for the use of this brutal punishment where the stakes are life and death, and the society is plagued by discrimination and inequality.
The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.