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Fairness, Equity and Revenge

Fairness, Equity and Revenge

Photograph by Ahmed Muhammed Ali / Anadolu Agency / Getty

Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh was executed in an extremely brutal manner by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last week after negotiations between it and the Jordanian government failed. It’s unclear whether ISIS had any real intent to send Muath and a Japanese hostage to Jordan. Jordan, which lifted its ban on capital punishment in 2014, executed two jihadist loyalists in response to Muath’s murder and the murder of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. The father of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh sees the death of two jihadis by Jordan as an inadequate response. He believes Jordan needs to end the lives of more than two ISIS sympathizers and is calling for a bigger response by Jordan against the terrorist group.

The response by Jordan may be viewed differently from the perspective of Western legal systems, where revenge and the rights of victims often do not play a role after the commission of a criminal act goes to trial, even for brutal crimes. This thought process would run contrary to many of the political conclusions that Jordanians and their Western allies committed to in dealing with the hostage situation with ISIS.

Rehabilitation has been the focus of much of the legal systems in Western countries, and the execution of prisoners has always been done after years of trials and appeals for the most severe crimes against society. Executions during war have also been discouraged and are illegal in conflicts between two nation-states. Historically, though, that hasn’t always been the case. During World War II, many captured German SS officers and soldiers were often shot promptly after their capture. The field executions of SS officers were also informally condoned because SS divisions often would execute allied captives during the war.

However, nothing in modern Western legal systems offers victims that type of instant and permanent resolution to crimes committed against individuals outside of a war. The Common Law tradition embraces laws based in fairness, named the Laws of Equity. When judges applied the laws and it was believed that the written law did not allow for enough fairness toward one or both of the parties, the judges were given the leeway to adjust the rulings to balance fairness for one or both parties. Criminal systems are limited in this regard as victims of criminal acts are dependent on state compensation funds if they receive reparations for a criminal’s actions. These funds are often limited and are often the only help for those who have suffered permanent loss of property or severe physical hardship due to being assaulted criminally. In the Common Law system, most jurisdictions hold criminal acts against individuals as offenses against the queen, monarch or state.

Revenge against groups like ISIS may not be legitimate on a state-level, but for Kurdish, Yazidi and Iraqi Christians, its often one of their main self-defense mechanisms against these threats. For Jordan, their response will become clearer over the next few weeks as allied Arab countries are pushed further into the fight with ISIS. Western countries have chosen to intensify legal protections locally after homegrown attacks. A measured response abroad remains difficult, however, as a balance between local condemnation of further conflict and the desire to strike back as hard as possible needs to be maintained. A just revenge often leads to few solutions in the long term, and strikes from the air have limited effectiveness. Allied nations currently fighting in the Middle East have few options beyond being committed to assisting those fighting in defense of a peaceful society.​



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration