There are several arguments for why, a week ago, a 42-year-old man was strapped down before a gallery of viewers and injected with a cocktail of toxins that stilled his heart.
Some argue that if Troy Davis, a convicted killer, had lived, there is a danger that he would have escaped and killed again. Others insist that only his death could deter other criminals from killing.
These are arguments, but clearly not adequate justification.
If we were honest, we would perhaps admit that as a society we award the death penalty because we believe in restitution, in giving to the criminal what he deserves.
And how fitting is that, as an argument, of a race that still prides itself on kindness, fair play and compassion. After all, there are not many areas in which we demand these qualities of ourselves any more. Kindness, fair play and compassion are abundantly absent in almost every aspect of governance, corporate policy and international relations. They are, in fact, stridently declared weaknesses in many of these areas.
Surely, if we are to claim them at all, we would have to claim them in a justice system.
And where is the justice in clinically setting a date and a time, calling in a group of experts and then escorting a healthy, unarmed man into a room built for murder.
It’s an act to set the moral compass swinging - even if, as in the case of Davis, the victim has killed an off-duty policeman who was trying to prevent a mugging. Even if, as in the case of Afzal Guru, we are talking about a man who attacked our house of Parliament.Even then.
Not because there is a chance that these men could be innocent, as both have claimed to be. That has nothing to do with it.
We can live, albeit uncomfortably, with the fact that a flawed system will occasionally sentence an innocent man to a life devoid of liberty - because this system is the best that we can do, because it is one that is constantly being updated and improved, at least in theory, and because it is an essential element of a free society.
Capital punishment meets none of those conditions, least of all that of being essential. It is revenge, institutionalised. It is the large majority crowding around a damaged individual and showing him what’s what. It is, in a sense, the worst form of bullying.
Justice is taking the threat off the streets, ensuring that he cannot leave.Justice is admitting that a flawed society has had a role in creating most of these flawed individuals.
A conveyor belt to death? That’s just revenge.