Gross terminological inexactitude

A murder isn’t an execution, even if a future Prime Minister commits it.

I don’t know whether the new Prime Minister of Iraq did or did not shoot six handcuffed and blindfolded prisoners in the head shortly before assuming his new post.

But I’m sure of one thing: Allawi didn’t “execute” anybody. He committed — or did not commit — six cowardly murders.

An execution is a killing done after a criminal conviction by a properly authorized official and by order of a court. “Execute” doesn’t mean (except by extension) “kill”; its primary meaning is “carry out.” Properly speaking, it isn’t the person who is “executed,” it’s the sentence.

To call the ritualized killings characteristic of the IRA, the Mafia, Hamas, and other organized criminal groups “execution-style” is not improper: they are, in fact, styled to resemble executions. But to shorten that phrase, as so many journalists do, to refer to the “execution” of the victims is simply wrong. (Perhaps it reflects the view of many journalists that capital punishment is morally no different from murder, but that sort of editorialization has no place in news stories.)

Oddly, the Washington Times, which might be expected to be friendly toward the new Iraqi regime, uses the neutral “killed” and “fatally shot.” In my view, it would have been proper to use the pejorative “murdered,” since an unlawful killing is a murder and Allawi had no lawful right to kill anyone (and since Allawi won’t be tried for the murders here, eliminating the risk that use of the correct term might bias a jury), but in this case I’ll settle for neutrality.

Hat tip to Holden at Eschaton, who also reports that Rush Limbaugh came out in favor of the alleged murders. Whether the killings happened or not, Limbaugh’s reported response is (typically) execrable. Odd how the right-bloggers who think that John Kerry can properly be held responsible for Michael Moore don’t think that the GOP has any responsibility for Limbaugh’s ravings.

UPDATE I don’t know Paul McGeough’s work, but if he’s not a liar his account convinces me he had the story right.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: