Thoughts, Ideas, Observations

What is Justice For?

John Bedell

This morning I listened to several different news accounts of the conclusion to the Lockerbie bombing trial, all of which focused on the relatives of the victims. The first, at 5 AM, began, "Today the relatives of the victims will discover the outcome of the trial..." as if nobody else cared.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is trying to decide who will be allowed to attend the execution of Timothy McVay (the Oklahoma City bomber); their spokeswoman mused, "How do you decide which eight people will be allowed to find closure?"

I'm sure the people who lost children and spouses in these crimes have suffered horribly, and I feel for them, but I refuse to accept that the main purpose of the judicial system is to get revenge for the relatives of victims.  I don't think we should execute criminals to help victims find "closure," and I'm suspicious of anybody who would find it therapeutic to witness an execution. The element missing from both the CBS and NPR accounts of the Lockerbie trial was any sense that the people as a whole have any interest in proceedings. What about the prevention of terrorism?  The proper response to acts of state-sponsored violence?  The principle that wicked actions will have severe consequences?  All thrust aside, so far as I could see, by the demands of justice as therapy.

It seems to me that if the state is going to kill people, it should be for a state purpose, not to assuage the feelings of a single citizen.

There is, in the US, a group of the relatives of murder victims that opposes the death penalty. These folks say they had thought the execution of their persecutors would end their suffering, but they found that it did not, and now they regret ever seeking another person's death.

What is "closure" in this context anyway?  I wanted to finish my Ph.D. to bring some closure to my seven years in graduate school, but does anybody seriously think that the pain from the murder of one's child ever ends?

When governments sponsor the destruction of civilian airplanes, there is something more at stake than "closure," and there are interests-- world peace, international justice, the safety of all other air passengers-- that must outweigh the feelings of the victims.

January 31, 2001

From the 
Commonplace Book

"Conservative, n.  A statesman who is  enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal, who wants to replace them with others."

--Ambrose Bierce, The
Devil's Dictionary


Commonplace Book
On the Dead
Bulletin Board
About us

Faith, Error, and the Death Penalty




At Each Other's Throats

Not just the Execution



The Principle of Violence

Iraqi Democracy

Clash of Civilizations

A Sniper Nation

War and Alienation

Revisiting the War

September 11

Taking Anarchism Seriously

The PLO and the NRA

Shay's Rebellion and
Bankruptcy Reform

What is Justice For?