Ed Morrissey says that the Iraqi government may be working out a deal to spare Saddam’s life in exchange for an end to the “insurgency.”
That’s fine by me. I think that it’s a much worse punishment for Saddam to live for many years and watch the nation that he thought of as his personal fiefdom go on (much more) happily without him and his sadism. Well, actually, like Eugene Volokh, I’d like to see him go through all of the torture and death that he dealt to so many, but one can only do that once, and he wouldn’t be able to sample all the variety that he was so eager to dispense. Which raises two questions.
First, as Ed points out:
As long as Saddam never sees the light of day again, he can die like Rudolf Hess — crazy, broken, and of old age.
Just so. But what does Saddam’s future hold, assuming that he survives his current medical woes? One of the most powerful objections to effective immortality that may result from advanced medical technology is that, as long as men (and women) are mortal, then so are tyrannies. Even if it’s impossible to overthrow a dictator, there is always the knowledge that he won’t live forever. Once life-extension treatments become available, it’s a given that the first to have them will be dictators, thus cutting off hope of ending their reigns of terror via natural causes.
In this case, now that the dictator is in prison, what are the ethics of medical care for him? He is receiving treatment for his chronic prostate infection. But suppose that our medical capabilities were more advanced, and affordable to all? Suppose that in fact we could restore him to full health, and indefinite youth, and that contra Ed’s desires, he didn’t die broken, of old age?
Should we? And if not, in a world in which no one else any longer had to suffer such infirmities, and the eventual death from them, how would withholding such treatment differ, ethically speaking, from a prolonged and painful (in the context of a new era of eternal youth) execution?
Moreover, suppose that we were in fact able to restore a human body to full health from the most major physical trauma? For instance, we could feed him into a shredder feet first, perhaps up to his very viscera, and then pull him out still alive and regrow the body. Or electrocute him with electrodes attached to various parts of his body (use your imagination here), and then resuscitate him to do it again. Or lop off ears, gouge out eyes, cut off tongue, gas him, rape him with various interesting objects–all the things that he cheerfully, joyfully did or had done to others, and then fix him up for indefinite repeat performances?
At some point, it takes on the flavor of the revenge of Greek mythology, like the fate of Prometheus, doomed to have his liver eaten every day to be regrown by night, or Sisyphus, condemned to forever roll the stone almost to the top of the hill only to have it fall down again.
In a world of potentially infinite good health, the problems of dictators, and of crime and punishment, will surely take on a whole new cast. It may be, in fact, that the future holds means of punishment and agony that the Spanish Inquisition couldn’t dream of.