Do Not Put Them To Death

Hesham A. Hassaballa

Posted Jan 30, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
Bookmark and Share

Do Not Put Them To Death

by Hesham A. Hassaballa

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

At long last, it is the beginning of the end for the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In fact, it is the end of the “war on terror” as defined by President Bush. On his first day in office, President Obama requested a suspension of all Guantanamo trials for 120 days pending a comprehensive review. A day later, he issued an executive order directing that the prison gamp at Guantanamo Bay be closed within one year as well as a review of the cases of the 245 detainees still housed at the prison camp. In signing the executive orders, President Obama said, “The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be as just as our cause, and we, the people, will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security.”

He was surrounded by 16 retired generals and admirals as he signed the orders, who applauded each signature. The decision was also hailed by rights groups, politicians, pundits, and justice advocates the world over. Yet, there were some who objected to his actions. Family members of some of the victims of the 9/11 attacks did not want any more delays of the trials, and this is understandable. Some Republican lawmakers, such as Michigan Representative Peter Hoekstra, also objected. Hoekstra remarked, “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality - it sets an objective without a plan to get there.”

Yet, still more objections were sounded from the most unlikely of sources: the five men charged in the September 11 attacks. The alleged “mastermind” of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, told the court that he opposed the delay: “We should continue so we don’t go backward, we go forward.” Apparently, they all want to plead guilty to charges that carry the death penalty - so they can die as martyrs.

We should not oblige.

First of all, it is right, honorable, and proper that the Administration do a comprehensive review of the current detention and military commission process enacted by the Bush Administration. If upholding the principles of justice and the rule of law means a delay of 120 days, so be it. In addition, it is absolutely right, honorable, and proper that the stain on our moral fabric that is Guantanamo finally be closed once and for all.

Yet, when it comes to the alleged 9/11 plotters: if they are found guilty of plotting and then executing the mass slaughter of almost 3,000 innocent Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, then we should not sentence them to death. We should keep them alive and imprison them for the rest of their lives.

This is not out of any objection to the death penalty - far from it. If anyone deserves to be put to death, it is the plotters of the September 11 atrocity. Islamic justice, in fact, would demand that they be put to death for their crimes if convicted.

No. We should keep them alive to deprive them of their twisted version of “martyrdom.” We should keep them alive to prevent them from becoming heroes to their other sick neo-Kharijite followers and aspirants. We should keep them alive so as not to give them the “easy way out” of death. They should be kept in prison for the rest of their lives, devoid of any twisted sense of “honor” they may feel for being “holy warriors.” Life in prison for them would be a pain worse than either torture or death.

Indeed, I suspect that many of the neo-Kharijites who opt to become suicide terrorists want to do so for a “direct ticket to heaven” - a quick (and quite dirty, I might add) way to get out of the stress of living life on earth. “With one click of a button,” their horrific logic goes, “I can be in heaven with my 72 virgins.”

Not only is this an ugly aberration of the faith of Islam, it constitutes the ultimate betrayal of everything for which Islam stands. The taking of innocent human life is absolutely forbidden: “And do not take a life that God has made sacred, except for just cause.” (17:33) That includes suicide: “And do not kill yourselves, for God has been merciful to you.” (4:29) Still, the concept of going to Paradise by becoming a suicide terrorist and killing innocent people is completely foreign to Islam.

The Qur’an says, “Seek the abode of the hereafter with what God has bestowed upon you, and do not forget your part in this world. And be good, as God has been good to you. And do not seek corruption on earth, for God does not love the corrupt.” (28:77) “Seeking the abode of the hereafter” is a difficult task. It takes sacrifice, hard work, and perseverence. It is the true meaning of “jihad,” namely, a struggle against the dark tendences of your nature to be the best and most upright human being on earth.

That life on earth is intended to be tough is embodied in the scene, so eloquently described by the Qur’an, when “the angels enter their presence from every gateway [of Paradise, saying]: ‘Peace be upon you, for you were patient; and how excellent the reward of paradise!’” (13:23-24) “For you were patient”; we are supposed to be patient on the oft-difficult path of God, not seek an “instant ticket to Heaven” by becoming a suicide terrorist. What a satanic line of thinking.

Furthermore, as verse 28:77 denotes, one should “seek the abode of the hereafter with what God has bestowed upon you” - that means with one’s intellect, one’s wealth, one’s talents, one’s strength, and whatever other gifts he or she has been given. That could never mean seeking the abode of the hereafter with a suicide bomb belt. That would be seeking corruption on earth, which verse 28:77 strictly forbids.

Moreover, the verse commands us to “be good, as God has been good to you.” God has been good to all of us by giving us the gift of life when we were all dead. Deciding to become a suicide terrorist is the very antithesis of being “good,” the ultimate betrayal of and ingratitude for all the blessings bestowed upon the person by God.

As satisfying as it would be, as soothing to the inner rage that burns in all Americans from the slaughter of 9/11, we should not put the alleged 9/11 terrorists to death if they are convicted in a court of law. They should rot in prison, humiliated and dishonored, having to struggle and strive in a difficult and painful life until they die a natural death, at which time they will meet the justice and judgment of the Lord. Killing them now is far too easy of a punishment for them.

Visit Hesham A. Hassaballa’s site at