Friday, April 25, 2008


Someone once said that the measure of justice in society isn't how it treats its best people but how it treats its worst people. By those standards the U.S. is doing pretty poorly. Take sex crimes for instance. Probably some of the worst things that can happen to a person. Despite the fact that most sex crimes, whether they're child molestation or rape of some kind, are committed by someone connected to the victim society has become paranoid that lurking around every corner are pedophiles just waiting to abduct and molest children, and to a lesser extent rapists lurking behind every face that people think is not quite ok. Once actual child molesters or rapists, not just gay people or people who are socially awkward who are suddenly given the label of potential rapist, are caught and tried the sentencing aspect becomes such that judges and juries try to outdo each other in how draconian a sentence they can pass down. The seriousness of the crimes necessitates that people who have done these things get more time than people who deliver multiple shots to the chests of rivals.

Let's try a thought experiment for a second. Given that people are understandably extraordinarily upset about these crimes, if there was no limit on what could be done to people convicted would anything be off limits?

For example, would hanging someone from a ceiling with meat hooks through their back and then burning off their skin with a torch, peeling it off after it was charred, and then putting out their eyeballs with hot pokers be acceptable? What about having your limbs cut off in front of you? Do you think that's barbaric? Let's say you do. It seems that you admit that there are some limits to what you think is acceptable to do to people who commit these things. So why do you believe that?

If you believe that singeing someone's skin off is not acceptable what about pulling people's finger nails off and electrocuting their genitals? Still object? Hmm... Seems you really do have some limits on what punishment you consider just after all.

Where exactly, then, is the line between what should be considered unacceptable punishment for these things and what should be permissible punishment?

Do people, even rapists and child molesters, have basic rights that shouldn't be violated?

It gets back in a way to other people put into the black box of doing things that society considers maximally abhorrent like accused terrorists. According to Bush and company the people at Guantanamo bay deserve torture and beatings because they're the "worst of the worst". They shouldn't be allowed conventional trials, they shouldn't be allowed conventional standards of evidence, they're supposedly such a danger that it's justified holding them for years without even being charged while consistently being interrogated. Do they have rights, even though they're so-called "Enemy Combatants"?

If they do then why not people who commit very, very bad crimes within the U.S.?

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