Odd Connection to the Death Penalty: Lawprof and legal journalist Jeff Rosen had a very interesting New York Times article about Justice Stevens a week ago. The whole thing is much worth reading; but here I wanted to comment just on one part:
[Justice Stevens] won a bronze star for his [World War II] service as a cryptographer, after he helped break the code that informed American officials that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese Navy and architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was about to travel to the front. Based on the code-breaking of Stevens and others, U.S. pilots, on Roosevelt’s orders, shot down Yamamoto’s plane in April 1943.
Stevens told me he was troubled by the fact that Yamamoto, a highly intelligent officer who had lived in the United States and become friends with American officers, was shot down with so little apparent deliberation or humanitarian consideration. The experience, he said, raised questions in his mind about the fairness of the death penalty. “I was on the desk, on watch, when I got word that they had shot down Yamamoto in the Solomon Islands, and I remember thinking: This is a particular individual they went out to intercept,” he said. “There is a very different notion when you’re thinking about killing an individual, as opposed to killing a soldier in the line of fire.” Stevens said that, partly as a result of his World War II experience, he has tried on the court to narrow the category of offenders who are eligible for the death penalty and to ensure that it is imposed fairly and accurately. He has been the most outspoken critic of the death penalty on the current court.
I recognize that much can get lost in such pieces, even when they are written by experienced, thoughtful, and sympathetic interviewers such as Rosen. Perhaps Stevens gave some further explanations that were omitted, or perhaps Rosen's paraphrases are not quite right. But what I see in the article strikes me as a perplexing chain of reasoning.
This was via The Volokh Conspiracy, which was in its self via Ace of Spades.
As has been said in other spaces, I can only hope that the judge was misquoted or misunderstood, because to use this event in WWII as the reason to oppose the death penalty all one can say is...HUH?
To take out one of the masterminds of the Japanese Navy, the guy who planned the raid on Pearl Harbor...why wouldn't you want do that in a time of war? But then again he never said as far as I can tell they he was opposed to that, it just made him think about the death penalty...which is odd also, because the two really have no connection at all.
Thanks for your service to this nation Justice Stevens, that is about all I can say that's nice and doesn't sound catty and wrong.