Dr. Keith Ablow: No, Mr. President, the NYC Terrorist Should Not Be Executed

President Trump has Tweeted that the New York City terror suspect, Saypullo Saipov, deserves the death penalty.  The President, with whom I generally agree, is dead wrong, this time.

Let me be clear about this:  Saypullo Saipov, who clearly seems guilty of killing 8 people by mowing them down with a truck, and who is said to be happy about the carnage he wrought, is a vile human being.

But I don’t believe Saipov should be executed or that anyone else should ever be—neither by a state, nor by the federal government.

Is that because I believe that wrongly-convicted individuals could be executed? The Innocence Project has certainly proven that innocent people are sent to death row.  But that isn’t my chief reason for opposing the death penalty.

Is my opposition to capital punishment because of the fact that even a person who has committed almost unthinkable acts still might find God and prove that good can overcome evil?  I do believe that redemption is possible, no matter how heinous a person’s past.  But that isn’t my chief reason for opposing the death penalty, either.

See, I’m not looking, chiefly, to save them; I’m looking to save the rest of us.

I oppose the death penalty because I know, for sure, deep in my heart and mind, that a society that seeks to restore the spiritual lives of those who senselessly snuff out other innocent lives is a far more powerful society in which to live and to raise one’s children.  I know for certain that, in not giving up on those who seem to be lost causes, we preserve our ability to resurrect the best parts of ourselves and our loved ones.

In taking the stance that there is not one human being who is clearly beyond the power of human empathy and God’s love we harness those forces for the good of all of us.

I believe that human beings can ennoble themselves by refusing the easy path of retribution, thereby strengthening and purifying themselves to do God’s work in many, many domains.

Given 15 minutes, I believe I could convince anyone of my position.  That’s how inherently powerful it is.  It has nothing to do with me.

How about it, Mr. President?  Give me 15 minutes, on any day, and I will meet you, anywhere in the world.

See, when we give up on one man, even a reprehensible man like Saypullo Saipov, we give up on every man, and we give up on ourselves.  We risk losing our power as agents of a Higher Power.  And that is an incalculably high price to pay for vengeance.

Keith Ablow, MD



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Deb says:

    Sorry, Dr. Ablow. This time you’re wrong. As a society, WE didn’t force this thing to commit a heinous crime, nor are we required to use compassion or mercy on a being that showed none to others. HE PUT HIMSELF in the position he’s in now.
    I have no desire to play G*d, and certainly no one but sacred/holy ppl can even approach the necessary level of calmness in the face of such atrocities to contemplate keeping him alive.
    Play stupid games … win stupid prizes.

  2. You are wrong Dr a blow
    The $ 40.000 a year cost plus psychiatric
    Happy days forever can bring 2 lucky families
    Out of poverty each year.
    Hang him.

  3. Anne says:

    There are those who desire to be rehabilitated and then there are those who refuse and spit in your face. Only God has the ability to regenerate the soul, and when the expense of keeping those who refuse rehabilitation after ALL efforts, becomes astronomical I believe the incoragable can be executed. Sounds cruel but there has to be consequences.

  4. Keith
    As hopeful as the piece is, you touch on one point that confounds me. You
    wrote, ” Is my opposition to capital punishment because of the fact that
    even a person who has committed almost unthinkable acts still might find
    God and prove that good can overcome evil? ”
    Yet, in this case, Saypullo Saipov did find God. It is his God’s name
    that he believes that his path was righteous. I do not disagree with you
    in general, as I did PR work for Barry Scheck at the innocence project
    from 2000-2004 and certainly know how wrong our justice system can be. On
    this, I am not rushing for capital punishment either, but not because of
    any concern of giving up on one man or even all of us, but because by
    killing him we can easily dismiss him and forget, while keeping him alive
    keeps us all freshly aware of the damage he caused, the need to never
    lose our vigilance, and as a reminder of how powerful radical islam has
    grown, to remind those who seem to get soft on this issue that it can and
    still does hit closer to home that many often internalize about.

    Maybe it is just me, but hearing from experts and anchors questions of
    whether he was radicalized overseas in meetings, lone wolf, or part of a
    team, as if there is a “safer” feeling with the lone wolf (don’t worry
    he’s just one guy” scenario, exasperates me. The thought of him being
    radicalized here without meetings, without ISIS training camps, and with
    just information he reads on the Internet here in New Jersey, makes me
    more worried that many more could do the same, whereas the ones who need
    to travel and get trained can be better tracked and are fewer in numbers.

    Still, I like the piece

  5. Keith Ablow says:


    I agree; the idea of someone being radicalized WITHOUT being at a camp in the desert is far more frightening.

    On the other point: I don’t actually think that Saipov found God (as you say he did). I believe God is a force grounded in love for self and, by extension, love for others and for the world. The hatred of Saipov doesn’t seem to come from that source.

    One could say that Saipov was a true believer in something, however — a philosophy, let’s say. He certainly called it a religion. And so he tried to surgically remove as much of the cancer he believed we represent as he possibly could, using a truck as a scalpel. Now, though, we have him, under lock and key. And the idea that, despite him posing zero threat to anyone (so long as he is kept from others) that we should, nonetheless, kill him, seems like it would injure us, psychologically and spiritually. I really love the idea that, whether in 90 days or 50 years, perhaps by a chance meeting in the prison from which he must never be released, he could be “saved” or reached or transformed or whatever one might like to call it. I think that is worth waiting for, even if it never comes.

    I would go further: At the prison where he should be held forever, I would argue he should be treated with decency. I would provide him with the Old Testament and the New Testament and the Koran and books by great poets and artists. I wouldn’t make him read them, but I would leave them for him to read, if he chose to. And I would let him speak with a Muslim chaplain who was not radicalized, too.

    As Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “The motorcycle you are working on is yourself.” Seen another way, I would say, “The terrorist you are healing is yourself.”

    If I were to have met Saipov four seconds before he drove into his victims, I would have, without any pangs of conscience (as in, none), killed him with an ax. But, with him captured, we have a better opportunity than to remove him from the planet. It is to let the planet remove the evil from his soul (even knowing that the chances of this are 1 in 100,000,000.) I like the odds.

  6. mark carron says:

    You are right on. Thank you for phrasing it both thoroughly and concisely. May it reach the minds and hearts of many.

  7. Stacy Allen says:

    I believe whether or not he found God is not Keith’s point here. I believe he is saying that those of us who have found God, and who believe in our spiritual beliefs and laws should also believe in the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill. In other words, the choice to NOT execute someone is to save OUR souls, not his/hers.

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