Missiles, Pigs and a Punishment Fit for a King

Over the course of the week, I've found no shortage of creative punishments for those convicted of involvement in terrorism.

Strapping terrorists to cruise missiles and nuclear warheads aimed at [insert Middle Eastern country here] is a pretty popular theme, as is just about anything relating to pigs and pig entrails. Forcing a sex change operation comes up a fair bit in relation to Osama bin Laden -- often in conjunction with the observation that it would be a sweet irony to make him live as a woman under his own brand of fundamentalist Islam.

In the case of Moussaoui, some say to throw him in prison and let his fellow prisoners take care of the punishment, assuming that they would terrorize and/or eventually kill him. Another suggestion that has surfaced involves the method purportedly used to murder King Edward II. (The argument is made here, but don't read it unless you're prepared to be grossed out, deeply offended, or both. You have been warned.)

Given the standard quandary of punishing terrorists, these unconventional approaches present a moral dilemma. Could torture -- or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment -- ever be an appropriate punishment for convicted would-be suicide terrorists?

This is a separate question from whether torture is ever acceptable as a method of extracting information from people who have not been convicted of any crime. It's a question of retribution and deterrence. Could humiliation and suffering be a deterrent in a way the death penalty could not? Or would the cruelty just incite more hatred, spawning still more terrorists?

By Emily Messner |  April 16, 2006; 12:04 AM ET  | Category:  Looking Ahead
Previous: Endangering Americans From Inside a Jail Cell? | Next: This Week's Debate: Nuclear Power


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Emily, I hear similar commentaries from friends and neighbors all the time. I really don't take it all that seriously because I know it is human nature to go along in such emotional discussions when you are far frrom the situation in which you would have to be accountable for the decision you make.

When my friends and neighbors engage in this sort of idle boasting, I query them: Would you actually do it? Would you--given the opportunity--torture this man Moossaoui the same way you are describing to me right now? Most of them come back at me with irrelevant speculations as to what I would do or what my politics are or even some lighthearted namecalling in the nature of "squish, softhearted liberals", "bleeding heart" and all of that standard fare they pick up from listening to fat, sour radio talk show hosts.

But, generally most simply beg off. They demur. Which tells me that most of these graphic tales of what we "should" do to the terrorists are little more that letting off steam. The truth is that we--whatever our beliefs, thoughts and opinions on the death penalty or punishment in general--are not like the people who are motivated to such murderous acts. None of us--given the opportunity--would actually do any of the things we so cavalierly advocate in the heat of our anger and passion.

Which opens up the far more intriguing question for me: What does motivate a man like Moussaoui, or Mohhamed Atta, to do the indescribably hideous things they do? To say the malevolent things they say? If we could find an answer to that question, we might be able to prevent acts of the sort that occurred on 9-11-2001.

Posted by: Jaxas | April 17, 2006 10:41 AM

Not torture. A bullet through the head would be quick, and a "humane" way for you squeamish guys. However, before execution, make sure he is covered with pig, from his head to his tippy-toe. I love this idea. It would scare the bejeezus out of them. We would become Satan reincarnated in their minds, which is a good thing!

Long ago, in another time, Frank Zappa and Ozzie were discussing the urban type myth that Ozzie bit the head off a bat on stage, and another one regarding Zappa doing something on stage (too disgusting to mention here). Both events never happened. Zappa, however, said something like, "Man, your story is great! Run with the bat head biting story for as long as you can!"

Posted by: johnnyg in NE DC | April 17, 2006 10:58 AM

The only thing I can say to you johnny g is that once we lower ourselves to the same animal level of the Moussaouis and Attas, we lose the moral high ground. We lose our ability to persuade the world that our way is better. We lose the one thing that separates us--rational, civilized human beings who respect the rights of fellow human and fight to make the world a better place for us all--from them--those who seek power at all costs, who hate the very notion of human fellowhip, who believe the end justifies the means, who believe that power comes form the barrel of a gun or the electric switchof a suicide bomb.

If we allow ourselves to be dragged to that level, then those who believe thusly have won. They have converted you. And someone else who comes along wioth a bigger club can use it to club you over the head and install themselves in your place. In that case, what have we won? What have we preserved? What has been affirmed?

If the man Jesus left us with anything, it should be that we can be better than that. We can aspire to something more profound than simply having a bigger club than the rest of the mindless. bestial cavemen around us.

Posted by: Jaxas | April 17, 2006 11:15 AM

I have a better idea. I think we should tie each limb to a horse and send the 4 horses off in opposite directions galloping as fast as they can.

Better yet, why not make a little coffin with spikes in it and let Chris Ford slam it shut.

No, better yet, I think we should nail them to a cross and sell tickets to watch them die.

Really Jaxas, what difference does it make if we develop an understanding of the ingredients for the terrorist souffle so we can stop it from rising? The answer is simple, if you want a cult that rises up under oppression to die off, just crucify the leader and voila, end of problem. No?

Posted by: patriot 1957 | April 17, 2006 11:28 AM


To answer this question:

"This is a separate question from whether torture is ever acceptable as a method of extracting information from people who have not been convicted of any crime. It's a question of retribution and deterrence. Could humiliation and suffering be a deterrent in a way the death penalty could not? Or would the cruelty just incite more hatred, spawning still more terrorists?"

I say a resounding NO it would not be a deterrent! And YES it would spawn more hatred and misunderstanding. Following that suggestion would only lead us further down a path away from one of our founding principles - namely human rights. We can find appropriate punishments without the degrading aspects or the torture.

Why in the 21st century would the United States, supposedly a beacon of freedom and equality, and a protector human rights, want to engage in and thereby promote torture and humiliation to the rest of the world.

As far as the deterrence goes, if they're willing to strap bombs on themselves and blow themselves up to take out a greater number of their targets, or sacrifice them selves to fly planes into buildings, we're dealing with people that aren't going to be deterred by much of anything including pig entrails and torture.

Posted by: DK | April 17, 2006 11:30 AM

Bravo DK and Jaxas.

I am finally seeing some positive signs that sanity is returning to this country. Yesterdays's Meet the Press was one of them. I particularly liked that feisty nun who I thought put the unctious priest in his place quite nicely. As she asked, why is it that you get to choose which commandments are more important anyway? Like, abortion is evil but degrading people with pig feces and torturing them is heroic?

The Christian Conservatives seem to be finally getting a clue how they've been used. Pray that it spreads.

Posted by: patriot 1957 | April 17, 2006 11:36 AM

We can send them to their "hell." Why ignore such a simple and powerful weapon? It is one that sends the message that we completely reject their dangerous beliefs, believe them to be incompatible with civilizations of the rest of the world, and that if they do not stop, we will continue to deny them their "visions of virgins" in the afterlife.

They are a cult, nuts, and supreme a-holes. Humiliation? Yes. It is not the same as torture (e.g., definitely not red-hot pokers uf the ass). In any event, they should not granted any of the provisions under the Geneva conventions.

I hope some of you watched 60 minutes last night. What a bunch of swell fellows and gals these terrorists are. We should try to understand these pieces of crap? Right. They should be treated with utmost humiliation.

Posted by: johnnyg in NE DC | April 17, 2006 12:50 PM

Like Christianity was destroyed by crushing its leader via crucifixion?

Like Christianity was weakened by humiliating Christians as sport for spectators and food for lions? How many Christians celebrated Easter yesterday?

Like executions for heresy stomped out Protestantism? How may of those Easter services were in Protestant churches?

Like Orthodox Christanity died out when Constantinople fell to the Muslims and the Russian Orthodox church fell to the aethiestic Soviets?

Like Judiasm was weakened by gassing 6 million of them? What year exactly was Israel chartered by the UN?

Or, perhaps a more apt example, like the horrors of the Inquistion showed the true nature of Christianity to the world, revealing Christians to revel in torture and murder?

We have already seen the fruits of the path of crushing the fundamentalist leaders - we have succeeded only in turning world sympathy from us to them. You could believe "we just didn't crush them hard enough", but six million gassed Jews turned world sympathy so much in their direction that they were given a country. Seriously, do you really expect crushing them is the answer when we can already see it is having the opposite effect?

It reminds me of Princess Leia in Star Wars: "the more you tighten your fist, the more star systems slip between your fingers".

Posted by: patriot1957 | April 17, 2006 01:21 PM

It's a cult, not a religion. I am a hard core athiest, so all that Christian stuff doesn't sway me. I do remember being told Jesus said to turn the other cheek, which would have been the stupidest thing we could do in response to terrorists blowing us up!

At least Jesus wasn't adverse to pig meat. Hosanna haysona whoosanna. Harrah for bacon.

Posted by: | April 17, 2006 01:40 PM

There is a new book coming out next year by the former CEO of Medtronics corporation on corporate ethics. Oddly enough, it has something in it which relates to this question of torture as punishment vs. torture as questioning. In the book the author talks about how doing business with corporations and governments in other countries is damaging the moral integrity of American corporations. His premise is that doing business with dishonest people, giving bribes, and so forth is isidiously infecting business people with a beliefe that this sort of thing is OK, after which they continue doing so back here in the US.

Wow. What a concept. Acting immorally in one situation might cause a person to start to believe it is OK to act immorally in another situation. Or even cruelly, inhumanly or monstrously. Imagine that. And then imagine how we might act if we gave in 'occasionally' to the urge to torture someone to death, because they were a really, really bad person who 'deserved' to be tortured.

Evil begets evil. Good resists evil by resisting the temptation to do evil. No exceptions, no free passes, no excuses.

Posted by: Gardog | April 17, 2006 02:58 PM

johnnyg - was that you two posts up?

Jesus was a Jew. He certainly preached that blind adherence to stupid meaningless religious ritual like burnt offerings and apparently baseless dietary laws with no spiritual involvement was not what God wanted for us, but its not likely he grew up chomping bacon either. The proscrption againt pork was shared by more than one ME religion (I have alway wondered why, too - maybe because pigs were fed garbage? Maybe some biblical scholar on this post knows). And there was not instant eschewing of traditional Jewish laws and holidays. That happened after they let the Gentiles in, who took Christianity over pretty much.

Posted by: patriot1957 | April 17, 2006 03:39 PM

Yes, that was me, and I know Jesus was a Jew.

I'm kidding about the pig stuff and Jesus (12 years of Catholic schools, 5 years serving mass, sometimes for such celebrities such as Fulton Sheen, Archbishops of Wash., etc., worked in a chruch for a few years as a tour guide - I had my share of this stuff - seen some pretty funny (peculiar) priests and brothers, as well as nuns along the way. I think they left me alone because they feared my older brother). I am going to hell and don't need any pig fat to get there, but I know I'll see a lot of the priests and nuns there too! But that is besides the point.

I find it funny that people are so damn superstitious. Step on a crack, break your mother's back, dive into pig fat, go to hell. This is all crazy stuff, but it seems to be an important weapon. Why would it be bad to "figuratively" send the terrorist killers to hell in pig fat as we execute them. After all, they ARE unclean and deserve it.

Posted by: johnnyg in NE DC | April 17, 2006 04:19 PM

Well, I certainly wasn't expecting to see my post regarding Moussaoui mentioned on the Washington Post. My suggestion to strap him to a cruise missile and send him back to his pals in Afghanistan doesn't seem inappropriate punishment, well, to me anyway. I think the little "family reunion" would do the world a great service. Anyway, thanks for noticing.

Posted by: Don | April 18, 2006 12:58 PM


You want humane, why not simply call Detective David J. Baucom with Fairfax Police tell him, you got this terrorist guy who just bet $25 on the NCAA tournament, you know Detective Baucom will then call out his SWAT friends with Fairfax Police, and SWAT Officer Deveal Bullock, being the pistol expert that he is will storm the door and shoot those terrorists folks for ya. Then you can have that Elmer Fudd District Attorney guy get up in front of the cameras and use words like, umm, tired, and deer hunting made his gun go off. Don't worry, Fairfax Police won't answer to anything, they never do. This way you get's rid of those terrorists guys, Detective Baucom can receive another accommendation, like he did the day before Dr. Culosi was shot, SWAT Officer Bullock gets to sit at a desk for 2-3 days at best and everybody is happy. Personally, I don't see what the difference is between me and Fairfax Police, we both operate an organization. Thanks, sincerely, Albert Capone...

Posted by: Al Capone | April 18, 2006 08:48 PM

Hey, Al,

Lighten up on Fairfax Police, maybe that Detective Baucom, thought that unarmed compliant optometrist was gonna whoop his ass, that's why he needed the SWAT team, led by old quick draw there, Officer Bullock. I only hope that Fairfax Police don't try to muscle into my territory in Brooklyn, although by the looks of things they don't look to be a very bright group. I saw a recruitment poster for Fairfax Police and it read, "Shoot first, deny later." Sort of like my motto. As far those terrorists guys go, catch them, put them on a ship in the middle of the ocean, then sink da boat let the sharks eat them.

p.s., Have you hugged a tired Fairfax Cop today...

Posted by: John Gotti | April 18, 2006 08:58 PM

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.