A senseless execution

Lt. Kasaesbeh's father

Lt. Kasaesbeh’s father

Like so many, I felt horror at the death of Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, apparently burned alive by Islamic State militants. In a slick and gruesome video, the militants celebrate the atrocity while also making the specious claim that they chose this cruel method to retaliate for coalition air strikes. Like so many, when I heard this news, I felt a visceral yearning for swift and bloody retribution.

My heart breaks for him and his family.

What Jordanian authorities did in apparent response was swiftly hang several prisoners. One of them, a woman and failed suicide bomber, was identified by militants as someone they’d exchange for Lt. Al-Kaseasbeh’s life. As seems likely, the 26-year-old pilot was already dead as negotiations continued.

Jordan’s King Abdullah went on the air to give a coldly furious response, vowing “punishment and revenge.” He quickly followed through by hanging two prisoners, including the woman the extremists has identified. But the execution of  Sajida al-Rishawi, in prison since 2005, will bring the militants no closer to defeat. Al-Rishawi by most accounts was bumbling, ineffective, and reluctant terrorist, possibly even coerced into the act by the same variety of extremists who murdered the pilot.

Retribution isn’t justice. And it’s a terrible strategy if we want to truly defeat ISIS/ISIL.

To the extremists” supporters, her hanging is only one more piece of evidence against Jordan and its partners, including the United States. When we behave barbarously, all the more reason for them to devise ever more cruel and terrible methods. That’s why the scourges of US-led and sanctioned torture have been so devastating to the cause of freedom and human rights. Guantánamo, with innocents like Mohamedou Ould Slahi imprisoned for years, with no prospects for release, give the extremists power just when they themselves are handing us abundant material to show the world their true and vile nature.

Al-Rishawi’s televised 2005 confession shows a confused, meek woman whose she says followed her husband’s orders to take part in the attacks that killed 57 people that year.

Sajida al-Rishawi

Sajida al-Rishawi

Her belt of explosives failed to detonate. It seems clear that after her capture, she told authorities everything and never tried to justify the attack. A year later, al-Rishawi was sentenced to death. By that time, Jordan had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.

No, she’s no hero. Yes, she deserved punishment as an accessory. Jordan made the right call when the country suspended the death penalty and the wrong one when, out of grief and rage, authorities killed her and another prisoner.

Their deaths won’t bring Al-Kaseasbeh back. I would bet not a tear was shed wherever these butchers heard the news of al-Rishawi’s death. To the contrary, they probably thought: good. We’ve committed just the right outrage to get Jordan to behave barbarously, thus proving that the kingdom is unjust.

Al-Rishawi’s hanging will only win them more converts, I fear. In this case, King Abdullah acted just as his title suggests: a King, able to wreck vengeance, not a leader bound by law and common sense.

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