It is no ordeal to analyze an issue outside the sphere of actual experience pertaining to the death penalty and come to the logical conclusion that it is simply wrong to take a human life no matter the circumstance. However, issues such as this are never as unequivocal, and life experience itself has taught me that my mind will work in unexpected manners when forced into peculiar or specific situations.
From 1993 to 1998, Nigeria was under the Military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, a man who had been instrumental in the execution of two bloodless coup d'états from 1985 and was no stranger to power as he was appointed the Defense Minister and Chief of Army Staff in the process. The country had had a rocky history since its independence in 1960 with a bloody civil war from 1967-70, but no leader so effectively and single handedly brought the nation to its knees, economically, politically and ethically. He brutally killed opposition to his regime, looted $1 billion worth of oil revenue and was openly corrupt (1). I was there and although I was too young to understand everything I know the general attitude people bore towards Sani Abacha, and very candidly it was death. Everyone I knew wished some sort of ill will or malice toward him, not to mention rumors of constant threats of assassination aimed at him. At the time of Abacha's death (cardiac arrest, although some suspect foul play) in 1998, I can remember feeling a feeling of intense joy and most importantly hope and not just from me, there were celebrations in the streets for days. The country I was living in would possibly begin to catch up with an increasingly progressive world.
In retrospect, I still do not feel ashamed of these feelings, as the country would not have so expediently reached a stage of repair. But he died of 'natural causes,' which is very different from a willful act of killing the man. If Sani Abacha was tried and executed, I am almost certain that at the time many would have condoned it including myself, however today I'm not sure I would. It's possible to argue on several tiers of morality why putting him to death would have been wrong, but it seems to me, the most prominent reason is that it would seem like an easy solution to a problem that caused profound and irreparable damage. I think he would be a good reminder to everyone if he was still in a prison and not just in the annals of history. Besides that, Abacha did have a family and condoning his execution to me would be akin to 'flipping the switch' personally.
Besides my feelings on the matter, I believe that world society is not unified enough at this time in our history to come to a unified decision today, so at least while capital punishment is still in our midst, it is necessary to make sure it is used only in the most unique cases. For instance, in several parts of the world different forms of unfair capital punishment are carried out under Sharia Muslim law, in until recently China's capital punishment was applicable to most criminal offenses (2), and in the U.S. there are several cases of racial bias (3). Ultimately, from a removed standpoint in an ideal world I could attest to a stance against capital punishment with absolute resolve, but as hypothetical morality is sometimes fallible, it is hard to say whether exceptional circumstances would fault my theoretically stalwart belief
1. 1.Norris, Floyd. "Ideas, Trends; A Nigerian Miracle" New York Times.
Published: April 22, 2002. Viewed September 7, 2008.
2. 2."Rare Look at China's Death Penalty" CBS News Published March 10, 2008
3. 3.Robinson, Bruce A. "Racial bias in Applying the Death Penalty" Ontario Consultants on religious Tolerance. Published: June 8 1995. Viewed September 2, 2002