Ethics Dunce (Again): Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen

No danger of an innocent being unjustly executed here...

No danger of an innocent being unjustly executed here, Richard…Now what?

Most Ethics Dunces named on Ethics Alarms are being chided for one, possibly anomalous, instance of ethics cluelessness, but not Richard Cohen. He is a lifetime, career-long ethics dunce. It is noteworthy when he writes something that doesn’t reek of ethics confusion.

Today he is blogging about the death penalty. There are coherent, powerful arguments that have been and can be made against the death penalty, but Cohen doesn’t bother with any of them, which, as a reflex old-school liberal, he should at least know by heart. No, he attacks the decision of Eric Holder to approve his Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s request to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber as “political cowardice using one invalid argument after another, and by the way, curse you, Richard Cohen, for forcing me to defend Attorney General Holder.

Here are Cohen’s “arguments”:

  • The death penalty is a horrible crime on par with Tsarnaev and his brother intentionally killing and maiming innocent spectators of the Boston Marathon. Such an absurd statement carries a high burden of proof, which Cohen doesn’t even attempt to meet.
  • “[The death penalty] is the sine qua non of lack of thought, a medieval tick of the political right, a murder in the name of murder that does absolutely no good, unless it is to validate the killers’ belief in killing.” Ironically, Cohen’s post is the sine qua non of lack of thought. Since the death penalty has been around continuously since well before Medieval times, calling it a medieval tick is about as fair and accurate as calling religion, warfare, and property laws  medieval tics. Of course it does good: the fact that a vicious anti-social murderer is permanently removed from society and no longer uses up resources, space and oxygen that can be better employed in the furtherance of humanity is an absolute good, and that those contemplating similarly heinous acts are on notice that the same fate awaits them is also good. Continue reading

The Ethics of Stopping the Condemned From Accepting Death

In Oregon, a judge has granted death row inmate Gary Haugen’s motion to dismiss his lawyers after they persisted in taking measures to block his execution. They had declared he was not mentally competent to waive his appeals and allow his own state-decreed death to proceed.

Leave it to lawyers to be convinced that they know what’s best, even when it involves someone else’s wishes about his own life and death.

Is the condemend prisoner who approves of his own excecution insane, or courageous?

In an attorney-client relationship, the lawyer is ethically bound to do what the client wants as long as it is legal and within the bounds of the ethical constraints on the lawyer. A lawyer can render advice and should; a lawyer can explain the legal consequences of a course of action. But substituting the attorney’s judgment for that of the client is taboo…except, all too often, in cases like this one, in which a death row inmate decides that letting justice take its course and accepting the state’s death decree is preferable to rotting in prison.  Continue reading