Innocence, Terrorism, and Killing – Chapter 10

The final chapter of Bel Canto was surprising, and, in many ways, cruel. The characters that I had come to view as innocents over the course of this story were punished brutally by an outside force which lacked the knowledge and understanding that those in the situation had come to realize. These people, especially Carmen and Hosokawa, had become a beacon of independence and innocence in a scheme. Carmen redeeming herself through her love for Gen, and Hosokawa who had no idea of what would happen at the party that, so long ago, started all of the chaos. What is the appeal of killing and capital punishment?

According to Gregg Sangillo in his article, “Death and Innocence,” the death penalty in the U.S. has been used less and less in the past decade. In this case, what I find particularly interesting is the idea that is stated later in the article. According to Daniel Givelber, “in the early days, it was assumed that we just didn’t make mistakes with any regularity in serious felony convictions” (Givelber qtd. In Sangillo). This is interesting, and begins to explain the willingness to kill when it seems justified. In Bel Canto, the “rescuers” shoot to kill without hesitation. I think that it is reasonable to assume that this lack of hesitation stems from their strong belief that they are in the right. However, they lack the insight to make a fully formed decision. In many ways, the scene that played out at the end of the novel could be compared to a jury, which is also noted in Sangillo’s article: “When it gets down to appeal, they’re talking about, ‘Were the jury instructions appropriate? Was the jury seated correctly?’” (Givelber qtd. In Sangillo). This is particularly poignant – the implication that the jury have become judge and, albeit indirectly, the executioner, is a terrifying prospect that the legal system was formed to avoid.

Similarly, the number of false accusations should draw great skepticism. The judicial system was formed to eliminate false convictions and offer fair trial to everyone involved, however, as of 2007, one organization claims that there have been 123 individuals released from death row upon finding their innocence (Sangillo). After reading this article, it seems to me that there is a great deal of pressure to pursue the death penalty, simply because it removes the perceived threat of the “criminal” from the public mind. However, in many cases and in personal experience, the instances when a convicted inmate or executed inmate is found innocent draws more attention to the death penalty than when it is not employed. Additionally, in current events we have seen the issues that arise from possibly botched lethal injections.

The “rescuers” in Bel Canto become a force with no mercy – though Beatriz raises her hands, and others try to surrender, they are shot. According to Ned Dobos, “targeted killing has become a staple tactic in the ‘war in terror’” (671). Dopos states that there have been over two thousand deaths in Pakistan since 2004, including lives of innocent bystanders (671). This is a staggering and frankly terrifying statistic, which is heavily emphasized by the deaths we saw in Bel Canto. As Dopos reviews the book, Killing Terrorists: A Moral and Legal Analysis, he expresses Anna Goppel’s conclusion very succinctly: “Killing is compatible with the right to life in international law only where it is strictly necessary to neutralize some threat.” (672) He then adds that there should, at every chance, be an attempt to negotiate peacefully, and that targeted killing should only be used as a last resort. In a poignant note, Dobos explains that Goppel argues that the killing of terrorists “is more appropriately evaluated using the descriptive and normative tools of ‘peacetime reasoning’” (672). These ethical issues are part of the cause of tensions in the current international environment. With the recent attacks on all parts of the world and the Islamic State claiming responsibility for many, targeted killing has come to light as a useful method of combat in terrorism settings. However, we constantly hear of the innocent lives lost in such maneuvers. I would be interested to look more deeply into the psychology of hostage rescue situations, especially how the justification of killing is made. In many ways, it seemed that the closing scene in chapter ten was not about rescue, but cold-blooded murder. I have to wonder if that was an artifact of Patchett’s portrayal of the government figures, or if it is an attitude of targeted killing and the lack of consideration of innocence.


Sangillo, Gregg. “Death and Innocence.” National Journal. 39.17 (2007). Print.


Dobos, Ned. “Anna Goppel: Killing Terrorists: a Legal and Moral Analysis.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 18.3 (2015): 671-672. Print.



2 thoughts on “Innocence, Terrorism, and Killing – Chapter 10

  1. dgromels says:

    Hello Sara,
    I found your post to be particularly engaging this week due to my interest in the legal field, particularly defendants’ rights. I like how you noted that there is a perception that the justice system always gets it right; people think that because a jury finds someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is necessarily guilty of the crime when in actuality, verdicts can vary greatly based on the jury, the competence of attorneys, and what the judge allows into evidence. You brought up a number of systematic problems with the criminal justice system that encourage false convictions in death penalty cases, but one you did not mention and might want to look at is the attorneys involved in these cases. The vast majority of death penalty cases are handled by public defenders due to the relative poverty of capital defendants, and unfortunately public defenders are often given caseloads so enormous that they can only spend minutes on their less important cases. It seems that reforming the public defender system could go a long way towards creating a more equitable process for those accused of capital crimes (not that I agree with the death penalty at all).

    Of course, things become even more complicated when you think about the death penalty in the context of terrorism because more often than not, terrorists are not given due process in the same way as the typical American defendant. Some argue that national security is more important than the rights of terrorists, but how do we justify killing people without giving them a chance to defend themselves? As we saw in Bel Canto, terrorists are people too and they may have been influenced or have different intentions than what we perceive from the outside.

    If you are really interested in this topic, I recommend the books “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham and “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson, and you might also want to talk to Dr. Walsh in the poli-sci department as he is one of the nation’s leading experts on drones and targeted killing.


  2. Colin Murphy says:

    Hi Sara,

    Thank you for your well-written and thoughtful blog post! I think you’ve done an excellent job of bringing an important topic to light with relation to both the novel and in-depth research. Although the topic of capital punishment has been heavily discussed throughout the past half-century, it hasn’t much been discussed in the past decade (it’s my opinion, however, that it should be). I find the fact that 123 innocent prisoners have been sentenced to death row particularly disturbing. What flaws in our court system let this happen? What role has science played in determining whether a suspect is determined guilty or innocent?

    I agree with Diane’s point that it’s important to take a close look at the relationship between capital punishment and terrorism. As I’m sure you’re aware, terrorists have not been given the same legal trials as normal citizens. Of course, terrorists and citizens are two very different groups and should be treated differently, but the way they’re treated differently is an interesting topic to consider studying.

    The novel’s conclusion certainly was a grim one, and I agree the cruel bloodshed was excessive and an inappropriate response from the government; you’d think given four and a half months they would be able to come up with a more effective solution! And as you found in your research, “targeted killing should only be used as a last resort.”

    Thanks again, and I very much look forward to hearing your class presentation next month.

    – Colin


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