AC Grayling: These executions have set us back to medieval ways

 

Share
Related Topics

If inquiry shows that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his son Mutassim were summarily executed last Thursday, theirs will be the latest in a series of high-profile killings this year, beginning with Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and continuing with Anwar al-Awlaki and his bomb-making colleague Ibrahim al-Asiri in Yemen.

No one can doubt that the quick dispatch of these men was convenient. If Bin Laden had been taken to Guantanamo or The Hague and put on trial, his status would have risen again, and many more deaths might have occurred in reaction to his humiliation at the hands of America. Killing him and quickly disposing of his remains at sea had a strong, utilitarian, short-term justification.

But for the long-term, it is a very bad thing that he was assassinated rather than put on trial. The same applies to Awlaki, and it applies also, this time in the interests of Libya's future social health, to Gaddafi. The idea of the rule of law, of its due process, of the civil liberties accorded even to those we know are guilty of vile and violent deeds – indeed, the whole project of civilising the world and substituting peace and law for violence and revenge – is jeopardised by using murder rather than law to deal with such criminals.

When leading nations such as the United States act like Mexican drug gangsters, they harm themselves and set a terrible example to the world. When a nation freeing itself from tyranny uses a tyrant's methods, it gives itself a steeper hill to climb towards becoming a just and stable society.

In accepting the pragmatic case for shooting malefactors, just as we shoot mad dogs, we state that we do not wish to pay the high cost of living according to law and civil liberties. We champion our Western principles about the rule of law and the rights of individuals, we thus say, only until they become a burden and an inconvenience; and, when they do, we summarily shoot people in the head instead. In effect, we admit the shameful fact that these principles are mere pieties that we do not really believe in, because we ditch them when occasion demands. And in this way we are no different from the Gaddafis and Bin Ladens.

President Obama's administration has tried to find legal sanction for the killing of Bin Laden and Awlaki, but that misses the point. It is in the fundamental long-term interests of all of us that we should accept the shorter-term difficulties that arise from sticking to principle. This series of summary killings has damaged civilised values and set progress back, you might say, to medieval ways.

The Libyan people have shown great courage in combating a dictator who still had much support, including an army. It would have been an act of even greater courage to put Gaddafi on trial. That would have demonstrated an intention to behave far better than he and his sons did, and to build a far better and more just society.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower