Jordan responds to barbaric incineration of one of its pilots

Understandable actions but ill-advised

 

“The policy of reprisals seems to me to be not only unwise but entirely unjustifiable from a moral point of view. That one man should be punished for another’s crime seems to me to be absolutely unjust” – Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Edward Byrne.

In responding to the horrendous incineration of Lieut Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Jordan, by executing two jihadist prisoners, has regrettably crossed a line between justifiable violence in self-defence and an unethical act of revenge or reprisal, as the authorities have described it. The new, barbaric depths of viciousness manifested by Isis and the widespread revulsion inevitably generated throughout the country make that response understandable, but ill-advised.

It is a difficult line to draw – an unprovoked attack on an enemy as an act of deterrence may well be legitimate; a form of self-defence. But the rules of war protect civilians and prisoners even where the latter have previously committed heinous acts. The death sentences that had been pending against both Sajida al-Rishawi, a convicted suicide bomber, and Ziad al-Karbouli, a top lieutenant of al Qaeda in Iraq, are not relevant. Their use as hostages is no more acceptable than that by Islamic State of al-Kaseasbeh.

“While all efforts must be made to counter terrorism and hold the perpetrators accountable, our reaction to the threat posed by (Isis) needs to be consistent with our common values on justice and the rights of prisoners,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini argued rightly in a statement which also drew attention to the union’s longstanding opposition to the death penalty.

We have been down this road too, a bloody and dishonourable chapter in our own history.

Archbishop Byrne was responding to the execution in Mountjoy by the Free State government in December 1922 of four untried leading Irregulars as an explicit reprisal for the assassination of a much-loved pro-Treaty TD, Sean Hales. Joseph McKelvey, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, and Richard Barrett were hanged on the orders of the cabinet, and their deaths were followed by an escalation of retaliatory threats from the IRA and new rules allowing Army committees to order executions of seized Irregulars – 81 all told.

The government then also adopted a formal hostage policy under which several convicted prisoners on death row received stays of execution pending the improvement of order in their respective localities. While some still argue – notably Liam Cosgrave recently of his father WT Cosgrave’s role – that the executions discouraged assassinations and attacks, and accelerated the end of the Civil War, they left an indelible, deep scar on Irish society after the conflict. A scar that arguably took generations to heal. Ultimately taking and executing hostages is immoral, against the rules of war, and profoundly counterproductive.

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