A Defense of Dicker
By James Taranto
January 4, 2007
In an item yesterday, we faulted Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch for his statement, in objecting to Saddam Hussein's execution, that "the test of a government's commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders. History will judge these actions harshly." This prompted a defense of Dicker from reader Bob Koelle:
Up to a point, we agree. Opposition to capital punishment is a respectable point of view, if (in our opinion) a wrongheaded one. And it would have been better if Saddam had been put to death in a more solemn manner--although, as reader Carl Friddle writes, "if Iraq has not yet reached the pinnacle of human dignity, whose fault is that, exactly?"
It's also true that Dicker's statement would have made sense if he had said "most vulnerable" instead of "worst offenders," and, yes, it is true that prisoners of the state are vulnerable by virtue of others' having seized control over their lives (and notwithstanding the deservedness of this condition).
But there is a huge difference between "worst offenders" and "most vulnerable," even if the two categories overlap. "Worst offenders" excludes the very sick, the very old, infants, children and others who are unable to fend for themselves--unless they also happen to be mass murderers.
We assumed that Dicker chose his words advisedly. But does it reflect better upon him if he did not--if he can casually and unconsciously draw an equivalence between a mass murderer and society's "most vulnerable"? It seems to us that this would indicate at best an intellectual slovenliness that reflects a complete lack of seriousness about human rights.
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