So let’s take a Boogie Man – someone who has committed great evil while rejoicing in it, and who will never be held accountable. While the details are certainly debatable, I’ll be using Dick Cheney as my Boogie Man. After 9/11 the American people were united and motivated as never before. The entire world community was behind us, “We Are All Americans” was a common refrain. Cheney squandered this unity and goodwill to throw us into an unnecessary war with an uninvolved third party, resulting in the needless loss of trillions of dollars of wealth and hundreds of thousands of lives. The evil he has done is hard for me to imagine. I realize there are worse people alive right now, but they don’t draw my bile like he does, because they weren’t acting in my name.
He will never be punished, but even if he was, it wouldn’t be enough. Even if he was captured and executed, he would believe that he was being killed by the enemies of patriotism and freedom, and he would feel he was going to a righteous death. Even if he was tortured over many days, he would bear it in the knowledge that it was being done by evil people who despise him for being a true monument of The Good. He would think himself a great martyr.
There is only one acceptable punishment for someone like this. They must be taught what they truly did, in a way that is not currently possible. He must become a good person, and then come to realize the horror he has committed. He has to be so disgusted with the loathsome being he was that he spends tormented centuries trying to do penance, trying to find some way to make up for his actions, knowing that it may never be enough in the face of what he’s done. That is the level of suffering that would be appropriate punishment, not something cheap and tawdry like a hero’s death.
I hope this doesn’t turn out to be literally worse than death (and if it is, I wouldn’t support it). I do not wish hell upon anyone. In time maybe he could find some way to earn redemption, some way to make peace with the monster he was. This punishment would be better all around – the world has lost an evil man and gained a good man, and perhaps he will do a lot of good in the centuries he works for absolution. The only possible downside is that other potential murderers would not be as deterred by this punishment, but that is pure speculation – for all we know they could be deterred quite a bit more.
Sadly, this is not currently possible. But our laws should encapsulate our ideals, not our basest instincts. So no – there should be no death penalty. And anyone who dies in state custody should be cryonically frozen so hopefully in due time they can be revived, corrected, and redeemed.