The National Catholic Review
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Indicted for War Crimes

The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, issued an arrest warrant on March 4 for Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity. According to the United Nations, the mass killings in Darfur have caused the deaths of 300,000 people since they began in 2003. In addition, two-and-a-half million people are internally displaced, and an estimated five million are in need of food assistance. The Sudanese government rejects the possibility that General al-Bashir might be prosecuted. Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations has dismissively said of the indictment that it would not “deserve the ink with which it is written.” The League of Arab States strongly opposed it, and the African Union tried to delay it.

In the wake of the indictment, there are likely to be angry demonstrations. The fragile peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan could also be in jeopardy. Against the background of massive violence and suffering, the international community has remained on the sidelines. It must play a stronger role. President Obama supported an indictment, as did Susan Rice, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But the goal should be steps toward peace and reconciliation, not measures that could provoke waves of retribution.

Small Is Beautiful

By many estimates, the Obama administration’s efforts to save the financial sector have only begun. Though the fix will cost trillions of dollars, federal grants and stock purchases are only emergency measures. To prevent a recurrence of today’s meltdown, the banking sector needs to be restructured. Restructuring, however, faces a paradox. In many places, small local banks continue to do business with no threat of insolvency. It is the 20 largest banks, like Citigroup and Bank of America, that are threatened with insolvency. It was precisely the combination of large size and complexity that brought the old system down.

To overcome the risks of bigness, the administration needs to retrieve the virtues of smallness. A 21st-century Glass-Steagall Act is needed to forbid the merging of financial services and break out commercial banking, investment banking and insurance activities, limit the purchase of banks and curb speculation. As Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and chair of the new Economic Recovery Advisory Board, has said, banks should restrict themselves to banking—providing customers an outlet for their money and sources of credit. Here, as Mr. Volcker points out, the untroubled Canadian system is a model.

Because the redesign must be done on a global scale, however, new banking structures cannot but be complex. To adapt to the global market, a new institutional architecture is needed to provide the networking and integrating functions of the failed megabanks. Within that structure, quasi-public entities on the model of the U.S. Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank could regulate banking networks with an eye to restoring the stability of the system and to the public good, and so reduce the temptation to speculation and greed that arises when the fiduciary function is left to a large-scale, profit-driven private system.

Save Lives, and Money Too

Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, long opposed to the death penalty, recently added to his argumentation that we should outlaw it because it is “an expensive, outdated and utterly ineffective tool in deterring violent crime.” Carolyn McGinn, a Republican member of the Kansas state senate, is another of a growing number of legislators who cite drained resources and severe budget cuts as reasons to ban capital punishment.

Some years ago, a study of costs in Texas (which has carried out more executions than any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976) showed that death row cases cost taxpayers $2.3 million per case, compared with $750,000 for life sentence cases. In Kansas a few years ago the median cost for death penalty cases was $1.26 million, while non-death penalty cases cost $740,000 to the end of a prisoner’s incarceration. A strong majority of nations around the globe, over 130, have outlawed the practice. It is a requirement for nations wishing to join the European Union.

Most opponents of capital punishment make their case on religious or moral grounds, arguing as Pope John Paul II did that it is “cruel and inhuman punishment.” Others argue, from a more pragmatic point of view, that it does not deter crime and that innocent people have been executed. Many claim that the death penalty is applied along class lines: Those with the capital escape the punishment.

Capital punishment is a stain upon our conscience. The fact that one key motive for outlawing it is not respect for life but saving money is still another shame. But we hope that this economic argument, noble or ignoble, helps to win the day and that the death penalty will be prohibited everywhere across the United States.

Comments

JOANNA IONESCU MS | 3/13/2009 - 11:59am
People guilty of heinous crimes should be sentenced to life imprisonment without the right to parole, but definetely not killed. The perspective I have in mind is double folded, ethical and pedagogical: we kill people to teach people that killing people is wrong. Something is obviously wrong with that.
Bob Gingrich | 3/12/2009 - 5:31pm
Regarding capital punishment: When I read numbers like the ones appearing in your editorial related to the costs of a death sentence vs. the costs of imprisonment, I am reminded of the old proverb that says "figures don't lie but liars can figure." It's also been said (tongue in cheek, no doubt) that 95% of statistics used like these numbers are made up on the spot. As a knowledgeable observer of today's journalists in action, I think the 95% may be high, but the number, I'm convinced, isn't 0% either. I can't even imagine how such numbers are accurately calculated, especially regarding controversial topics like capital punishment where the people and organizations providing those numbers have a point they are trying to prove. To those who say capital punishment is not a deterrent, I would say it must be on the minds of criminals since those facing that possibility always try to plead around it. It may not be as much of a deterrent as it once was because now criminals know it is, in actuality, rarely applied so their chances of its being implemented against them are slim. It seems to me the Bible is clear on the subject -- one who takes a life is to have his/her life taken from them through the justice system.
Karen Nelson | 3/10/2009 - 6:01pm
Violence begets violence, which begets violence. Why are we surprised that it is an ineffective means of deterrence? If the death penalty was truly as effective as its supporters attest, wouldn't you think we would have executed enough people by now to have made the point? The counterchallenge I would give to anyone who thinks the death penalty is "thinking like a grownup" is this - "think like your Lord." Now THAT was a form of thinking that transformed.
Chris Mulcahy | 3/9/2009 - 3:16pm
Universal opposition to the death penalty is immoral. Current social conditions are celestial, in historical terms. When the uncivilized unleash extreme violence upon the innocent--a condition never experienced by those debating the death penalty at present--that penalty becomes a moral imperative for any right-thinking person. Particularly in America, where individual freedom of action is held in highest regard, the ultimate penalty must be applied to heinous abusers. Challenge: think like a grownup.
Aaron J. Veselenak | 3/7/2009 - 3:00pm
If the Catholic Church and the above responder really cared about innocent life they would whole-heartedly support capital punishment. Numerous studies in recent years (peer-reviewed and published in professional journals) show that executions of murderers save an enormous number of innocent lives through general deterrence. There is also another kind of deterrence known as absolute deterrence that works irrefutably: executed killers cannot ever repeat their evil deeds. Too many convicted killers, sentenced to death or prison, were eventually allowed to go free only to kill again. Had these people, already guilty of murder, been executed, untold numbers of innocents would have been spared. Compare that with NOT ONE person executed in the last century having been later shown to be innocent. The Catholic Church needs to base its death penalty stance on the facts as opposed to pious gesturing. Real evil and wickedness exists in this world. Don't ever lose sight of that.
Robert Gordon | 3/7/2009 - 6:36am
If someone is convicted of a crime and sent to jail and is later found to be innocent, the State can free that person and, hoprefully, compensate for the mistake. If, however, that person were to be executed and later found to be innocent, what can be done in the way of recompense for that mistake?

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