a double standard on crime

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    A Double Standard on Crime
    Steven Zak
    18 July 2003

    America knows how to be tough on crime -- unless it takes place in a friend´s backyard.

    In Texas recently, a jury handed a 50-year prison sentence to 27-year-old Chante Mallard, after convicting her of murder for driving home with a man lodged in her windshield and letting him die in her garage.

    Meanwhile in a U.S.-encouraged "confidence-building" gesture to criminals everywhere, Israel released 300 criminals from prison -- with a promise of more to come -- including a mass murderer known as Abu Sukar.

    Sukar served just 28 years after being convicted of multiple murders for placing a refrigerator packed with explosives into a crowded square in Jerusalem, killing 14 innocents and maiming 60 more. Though responsible for more carnage than America´s own Charles Manson, the aging Sukar is unlikely to detonate another refrigerator bomb, which may be why he was among those chosen for this gesture of appeasement. If so, it´s a sorry excuse. There´s a reason Chante Mallard will spend the better part of her life behind bars, and it isn´t because she was likely to repeat her criminal performance.

    Scholars and jurists have offered numerous theories to justify criminal punishment: Retribution. Deterrence. Incapacitation. Rehabilitation. But none is as compelling as that of -- as one American court put it -- "denunciation or condemnation."

    Under that view, when a crime is committed, civilized society must express reprobation "as an affirmation and re-enforcement of moral standards." Any penalty insufficient to the offense would, in the words of the Model Penal Code, "depreciate the seriousness of the defendant´s crime."

    Mallard got a half-century sentence, then, not because she was a particular danger to society, but because of the depravity of what she had done. The Texas jury, in coming down hard, not only enforced the law, but affirmed the moral standards behind it.

    One of Mallard´s lawyers pleaded that she had just "made a wrong choice." But human beings, as moral agents, are judged by the acts they choose to engage in. As another criminal court once put it, "competent people, possessed of their faculties, make choices and are accountable for them." Mallard made the wrong choice all right, and now she´ll pay the price.

    But it doesn´t do for America to hold transgressors here accountable, while making excuses for them elsewhere. Malefactors anywhere threaten the moral fabric everywhere. It´s long past time, then, that we properly condemn the world´s worst criminals, like Abu Sukar´s bosses -- the mega-mass murderer Yasser Arafat and his 40-year accomplice, Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen.

    Arafat is responsible for decades of wrongful death. In 1973, his thugs kidnaped three diplomats -- including two Americans -- from a reception in Khartoum, then tortured and murdered them. At a dinner that year with Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Arafat bragged about those crimes. Their seriousness is depreciated every minute he goes unindicted.

    In another Arafat-sanctioned operation, the massacre of eleven athletes, including an American citizen, at the 1972 Olympic games, Abbas was the financier, according to the crime´s mastermind, Abu Daoud. The very value of human life is diminished so long as anyone responsible for those murders walks free.

    More recently, the leaders of the (what else to call them?) Arabs-Who-Have-Usurped-the-Name-of-Palestine have overseen the murders of hundreds of children, targeted where they eat, sleep or play. The general AWHUNP population are accessories -- before and after the fact -- through their overwhelming approval.

    Diplomatic considerations be damned -- such crimes demand an accounting.

    An unrepentant Abbas vowed recently that there "will be no peace or security if even one Palestinian prisoner remains behind bars." Similar cries -- demanding freedom for criminals like mass murderer and terror operative Marwan Barghouti -- have echoed all over the West Bank and Gaza. Thus do thugs express their bankrupt view that the moral universe is untarnished when crime has no consequence.

    Centuries of civilization say otherwise.

    America should unambiguously say otherwise now by encouraging Israel to arrest and try criminals, not to release or negotiate with them, and to offer nothing but hard time to the population that supports and conspires with them, because crime must not pay. Such criminals are "competent people, possessed of their faculties," who have made their malevolent choices.

    Morality itself risks slipping into irrelevance if we fail to hold them accountable.
    Steven Zak is a writer and attorney in California.
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