5 Nov 2005

Death and Other Stories

An interesting post from Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma:

On Capital Punishment

Well, I am not supposed to be blogging about socio-political issues, so I will keep this post short. The young Australian Nguyen Tuong Van has been in the news recently - he had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking and the government of Singapore has refused to commute the sentence. Now anti-capital punishment groups are getting into action here in Singapore, organising events and so on. Read Omeka Na Huria or Singabloodypore for more details.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I don't like the death sentence myself. But among these Nguyen Tuong Van supporters, I sense that there is a lack of clarity in thinking. Many of these people haven't really worked out for themselves where they really, really stand. They say that they are absolutely against the death sentence and that Amnesty International says that the death sentence is a violation of human rights etc etc. That's all good and well, but ...

... where were they when Took Leng How was sentenced to death for killing Huang Na, an eight-year-old little girl? How come they didn't organise a solidarity event for Took?

See, if as a matter of principle, you stand against capital punishment all the way, then you can't pick and choose your convicts. You can't say, "Ooh, I hate people who kill children, I shan't support Took. But Nguyen looks like a handsome young man and he has a twin-brother sob story, so I'll support him. Shanmugam Murugesu has two kids and a poor old mother - I'll support him too."

That's nonsense. If you stand against capital punishment - you stand all the way (like Amnesty International does). It shouldn't matter what the crime was, or whether the criminal has a sob story or looks handsome or not - you stand all the way. On the basis that a life is a life. Took's life is a life too.

I'll be very impressed if along with calling on the Singapore government to commute Nguyen Tuong Van's death sentence, those folks in Singapore also call on Took to be spared the death sentence (I'm assuming Took hasn't been hung yet). But somehow I don't see that happening. Do you?


akikonomu said...

I'll be very impressed if the law and order crowd (Mr Wang et al) so much in favour of prosecuting racist bloggers for their racism, also speak out loudly in favour of censuring several prominent politicians for making similar or worse comments. But somehow, I don't see that. Do you?

Mr Wang Says So said...

It would help if your examples were more recent. When you write about Choo Wee Khiang, for instance, you're writing about an 1992 incident - that's more than a decade ago. The horse was flogged then (deservedly); now it's dead; only historians would still be interested. Besides, Wee's remarks in Parliament are really rather trivial and irrelevant in the overall story of his life, compared to what happened later.

akikonomu said...

When I write about Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong, I'm writing about leaders who are still leading Singapore. The horse was flogged then (deservedly), but it wasn't flogged with the whip of sedition. I still don't hear howls of censure from the law and order crowd, which prefers now to pass the buck to historians, and appears to believe that this matter is now closed for debate unless you're a historian?

pantalaimon said...

It's perfectly plausible and consistent to support the death penalty for murder while decrying its use for - presumed - drug trafficking. It's moreover entirely consistent to support the death penalty for murder only when the circumstances of the crime are somehow aggravated, e.g. the victim was a child and thus particularly helpless, and so forth. I don't think there is necessarily any inconsistency here.

Moreover, it's possible to be against the death penalty in all circumstances but to highlight particular instances of its application that you feel will gain the most sympathy for your cause. There's nothing inconsistent about not using a child murderer as a test case for your campaign, but instead using a self-evident sob story. That's just, unfortunately, political prudence. (Though to be consistent, those with this position should acknowledge that Took and his ilk do not deserve to be executed.)

For myself, I oppose the death penalty in all its incarnations. I oppose its use against multiple killers, child murderers, serial rapists, kidnappers, and, yes, drug traffickers. Yes, Took should have a different sentence, too. But I wouldn't blame anyone for not using him as the poster-boy of a campaign against capital punishment.

Think Singaporean said...

Before the last court case, Huang Na's mother commented that whether or not Took was sentenced to death penalty would not bring back her daughter's death. After the court case, according to Took's lawyer, Took family wished to appeal for clemency and the case would be deferred till Dec or so.

Think Singaporean said...

While empathising and also agreeing with Huang Na's mother, I believe that any murderer would definitely feel regretful and remorseful for what they'd done, unless they are insane. And I believe that they'll feel very very unhappy for what they'd done. Why not give them a chance to live and to repent; after all they'll not be able to harm others if imprisoned. In which case, my stand: life imprisonment = death penalty remains.

Beach-yi said...

Maybe the only thing to say about no death penalties is that we are no Gods to decide.

Man are fallible and no man's laws are infallible. You can approve to kill one person and you can approve of the decision to wage war that kill millions.

What, then, is the weight of life?

mrdarren said...

This is a re-post from MrWang's site. Can't help but feel strongly about this issue.

Dear Singaporean,

I fully agree with you on point (1) - Drugs are evil, highly addictive and destroys families.

I disagree with you on points (2) and (3).

(2) There is scarce availability of drugs in Singapore. This must be a sign that the death penalty for drug trafficking is an effective deterrence. (I paraphrased you)

Of course, there is a deterrence effect to any punishment for drug trafficking. Harsh penalties and swift enforcement would greatly deter drug trafficking. We should take a tough stand on drug trafficking. It is a horrible crime that must not go unpunished. However, the rational question remains: Will imposing lengthy jail terms, harsh fines and more caning be equally effective (and more humane) as the death penalty in deterring drug trafficking?

At first glance, there is a simple co-relation between the scarce availability of drugs and the death penalty. However, there is no empirical evidence which proves that the death penalty DOES CAUSE a decrease in the availability of drugs. For example, the observation that dark clouds exist on rainy days: this observation is not helpful because we do not know if dark clouds do actually cause rain (See “Steven Levitt: Freakonomics: A Rouge Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything” for a more eloquent explanation)

Therefore, the death penalty may not be the cause of scarce availability of drugs in SG. They could simply co-exist, analogous to the co-existence of dark clouds and rain. Could there be more direct causes?

a)Increased vigilance in customs inspection for drugs
b)Improved use of technology in drugs detection
c)Increased police manpower for Central Narcotics Bureau
d)Increased collaboration within ASEAN on sharing of information on drug trafficking rings
e)Stricter penalties against personal drugs consumption
f)Increased public education on dangers of drugs consumption

I deliberately ignored the effect of ANY punishment for drug trafficking on the availability of drugs. Factors (a) to (d) directly reduce the supply of drugs into SG. Factors (e) and (f) results in less demand for drugs, ergo, fewer incentives for drug-rings to risk trafficking drugs into SG.

Despite the perceived effectiveness of our death penalty, I have tried to illustrate other factors that do cause a substantial reduction in the availability of drugs.

(3) From the drug mule point of view, if the penalty is death, they can refuse to do the job even if someone point a gun at his head. There has to be some amount of stupidity for Nguyen (or his handlers) to needlessly choose Singapore as a transit point, or perhaps he was set up to be caught anyway.

Let us take the strongest case for the proposition that death penalty should be imposed for drug traffickers: Nguyen was caught smuggling drugs INTO SG and not using SG merely as a transit point.

Let us assume Nguyen knew of the death penalty in SG. Drug mules are often at the mercy of the drug-lords, who literally “point a gun” at their heads. In the case of Nguyen, not only was he threatened by the drug-lord, but I assume his brother was threatened too. Faced with immediate danger to himself and his family, drug mules do not have a practical choice but to accept the job, even at the risk of the death penalty.

If Nguyen did not know of the death penalty, tough luck for him, since ignorance of our laws is no excuse. But here, the effectiveness of the death penalty is highly suspect: how would the death penalty deter the unknowing and foolish Nguyen?

Ultimately, I do not believe that drug trafficking is a crime so morally reprehensible that every Nguyen deserves to die. The objective of promoting social, communal and Singaporean interests should not justify the taking away of Nguyen’s right to live.

So Singaporean(s), what do you think?

clyde said...

Well put, beach-yi. Just as in the Bible:

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Think Singaporean said...

however, i believe that god does strongly decide to abandon the act of killing, be it one life or millions of lives and decide to advocate the act of saving - just like one treasures one's life dearly.

treecostume said...

It's ineffective, unecessary, inhumane overkill.

Regardless of whether couriers were coerced into trafficking or not, their being caught is nothing more than a business cost for drug barons. Kinda like using an unreliable postage system, where you expect that a percentage of your letters will not be delivered. Who knows how the deliveries get cocked up, they could've been misplaced, misdelivered, whatever. The death penalty isn't crucial to drug barons' equations and thus means nothing to them. It's IRRELEVANT.

All that matters is that the goods were lost. We can always make it expensive for them by getting good at catching their couriers, but this does not, in any way, necessitate execution of couriers.

What couriers fear first is getting caught by our customs officers in the first place. It is their degree of proficiency at catching them, that then results in the more desperate or more confident taking on deliveries involving this island. The death penalty for getting caught is a secondary concern, and can easily be replaced with a long jail sentence, which at least offers the chance for repentance.

Gilbert Koh said...

Oh, I'm sure Singapore would also happily hang the drug barons, if the barons were dumb enough to be caught in Singapore with the evidence on them.

treecostume said...

Undoubtedly. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that I don't think even drug barons should be hanged in the first place.

soci said...

No to the death penalty. Means that NO to the death penalty.