The cruel and unusual New York Times

Henry Miller Senior Fellow, Pacific Research Institute.
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The New York Times’ editorial writers demonstrate with startling frequency that they exist in a parallel universe, one marked by irrationality, misdirected compassion and ignorance of history.

In an October 28 editorial, “No Justification,” they were guilty of even greater misapprehensions and distortions than usual. In just a few hundred words, they managed to take to task: capital punishment, the death penalty applied to Arizona murderer Jeffrey Landrigan in particular, lethal injection as a method of execution, and the specific barbiturate used in the Landrigan execution (which occurred on October 26).

The Times’ diatribe was long on passion and ideology but short on logic.

Do the editorial writers really think they can convince us that prison authorities are unable to effectively execute someone sentenced to death? After all, medication mistakes are so common in American hospitals that on average each year they harm about 1.5 million people and kill 7,000 — by accident! And of course, veterinarians perform painless euthanasia thousands of times a day.

The Times’ editorial writers, like many liberals who are opposed to capital punishment on the grounds that it is “cruel and unusual” punishment, misunderstand the 8thAmendment to the U.S. Constitution: It doesn’t guarantee a painless punishment, merely one that is not cruel. The proscription was meant to curb the Draconian legal penalties common in England, which saw felons sentenced to being “drawn and quartered” or executed for minor property crimes. In other words, the 8thAmendment requires that the punishment fit the crime.

So, why the obsessing over whether those who are convicted of capital crimes suffer inadvertent pain when their death sentences are carried out. They showed no mercy or consideration to their victims, after all; often, they tortured and raped them. Landrigan, who was executed in Arizona, was convicted of the 1989 murder of a man he strangled during an armed burglary after escaping from an Oklahoma prison where he had already been serving another sentence for second-degree murder.

In fact, one might argue that justice demands that those convicted of capital crimes suffer as they are put to death. Should being executed for murder be no more uncomfortable than the anesthesia for a colonoscopy?

Finally, there is one fact we can all agree on: Execution eliminates recidivism, one criminal at a time. If Landrigan had only been executed for his earlier murder conviction, he would not have been able to kill his second victim. Don’t members of the public — as well as corrections officers and other prisoners — have the right to be protected from the predation of convicted murderers?

Cruel and unusual punishment is what I experience reading the Times’ editorial page.

Henry I. Miller is a physician and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover institution.