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Why "Execution-Style Killings" Are Anything But

10/03/2013 19:43 GMT | Updated 09/05/2013 10:12 BST

"Execution-style Killing". It's one of those chilling news-story phrases that are fairly frequently-used, lazily, thoughtlessly and as a knee-jerk response it would seem, by habit-driven journos or unmotivated sub-editors. But this one is deeply, deeply inappropriate, offensive and misleading.

The fact is that the killings thus referred to are almost invariably visited upon one or more unfortunate individuals who have transgressed the code of some or other criminal organisation. These common gangs evidently consider that they have the right to make their own rules and enforce their own penalties, without regard for law, justice or the sanctity of life, and devil take the hindmost.

That "sanctity of life" thing is important. Law is a creation of Humankind, as to a lesser extent are the concepts of justice and ethics. But life being sacred, that's just a fact, an absolute given, arising out of the sheer rarity of sentient existence. We're all brief sparks of being in the awful immensity of time and space. For all we know, each of us has waited billions of years for our one chance at life, and when our infinitesimal span is done, then there'll be innumerable further billions of years during which we shall not exist. Life is an unbelievably rare and precious gift, and to take it from someone - anyone - is the ultimate crime.

For me, this crime of killing encompasses all taking of human life, even what the various authorities down the centuries have been pleased to call "judicial killing", or execution; the death penalty. That's a subject for another day, but you catch my drift - I'm not in favour. The best that can be said of judicial execution is that, however flawed and misguided - even barbaric - the legal process might be, it is at least there, in some shape or form.

This cannot be said of the criminal act of summary murder, and it is grievously deceptive to use quasi-legal terms in referring to it. "Execution" in the judicial context refers not to the miscreant at the end of the rope, but to the legal warrant issued in consequence of a conviction for some presumably despicable crime. So the fact that someone has been tied up and shot in the back of the head, or beheaded live on some middle-eastern TV channel, or however they might have been dispatched, does not lend itself to the description "execution-style". No legal process is involved, no judicial warrant is issued and there is no conformity to the ideals of justice as developed over thousands of years. What we have instead is a tawdry, common murder.

This is not just an exercise in semantics. The common practice of referring to common killing in this way involves a danger of lending a spurious air of legitimacy to what is just a sordid crime. A lot of these self-styled armies, movements and groups desire nothing more than the appearance of justification for their actions. To aid and abet this desire, in any way at all, is inimical to justice, civilisation and the interests of those who are in danger of winding up victims of murder, dressed up in whatever disguise of necessity or expediency.

Murder is murder. Killing is killing. Let's call them exactly what they are in all their grisly horror, and so dispense with any false trappings of acceptability. If we are to lend the killers, the common, criminal killers any vestige of respectability, then we must, at least in some measure, share in the blame for the atrocities that - thus encouraged - they will continue to perpetrate.