President Obama met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II Tuesday evening following the release of an ISIS video showing Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kassasbeh being set on fire and burned to death inside a cage, and while the conversation at that meeting was private, it was followed Wednesday morning by the execution of convicted terrorists Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli, two of the prisoners who had been discussed in the trade for al Kassassbeh. The Jordanian government has indicated that more executions could follow.
The European Union, while expressing solidarity with Jordan, released a statement Wednesday denouncing the executions:
“While all efforts must be made to counter terrorism and hold the perpetrators accountable, our reaction to the threat posed by (Islamic State) needs to be consistent with our common values on justice and the rights of prisoners,” foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Our action has to be guided by the respect of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The European position against death penalty remains unchanged and we believe capital punishment does not serve any deterrent purpose.”
Since news of the executions broke late Tuesday night (Eastern time), the White House has had a chance to prepare its own response to these explicitly vengeful executions, and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was expected to have some sort of reaction by Wednesday afternoon’s briefing. He was asked about it numerous times, and while he said he wasn’t giving a reaction to the executions, or the President’s conversation with the king, see if you can detect the subtle common thread in his answers, which were clearly a prepared response:
What I love about this is Earnest’s casual notation that he’s “seen reports” about the executions, as if they just happened to come up on the flat-screen while he was treadmilling at the gym, and Ed Henry’s insistence that he’s “confused” by Josh’s lack of a reaction to the executions. No he fucking isn’t. He knows why Earnest isn’t responding directly to that question, while also repeatedly stressing the fact that “these were two individuals that did go through the Jordanian justice system, they were convicted of very serious terrorism-related crimes, and were sentenced to death and serving time on death row.”
Translation: what they did was legally fine, and coincidentally, we love and stand by Jordan. Their legal process gives the U.S. cover not to denounce them, as the EU did. But really, the answer is that these people were already scheduled to die, so who the fuck cares that it was moved up because of this crime?
However, even though the United States doesn’t have the EU’s problem of not believing in the death penalty, it would be impossible for our government to explicitly endorse scheduling executions as revenge for terrorist acts. I’d like to think it’s because our people would never stand for it, but it’s more likely that some would start loudly demanding revenge executions of our own.
It is a minute difference, though, that places the executions of those terrorists apart from our own executions. It boils down to timing and honesty: they are willing to say they’re doing it for revenge, and carry out their death penalty on the satisfying timetable of vengeance, while we lie to ourselves, look away, and pretend our death penalty is about justice. It is not, so if we’re going to use it for anything, why not use it to make some terrorists shit their pants.