06/21/2010 05:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Barbarism: Utah's Firing Squad

Ronnie Lee Gardner, a convicted murder, was executed early morning Friday by the State of Utah's firing squad.

The United States has been a beacon of freedom, democracy and civilization across three centuries. But it's hard not to see what happened in Utah with disgust.

This execution is nothing less that barbarism.

The United States is not alone, of course, in executing criminals. But we're definitely in the minority of nations - and our co-executionists are an unsavory bunch of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.

With our bi-partisan predilection for lecturing other countries about human rights, freedom of speech and other elements of a modern, democratic and civilized society, the state-sponsored killing of a man by shooting him should give us pause.

To those that say that heinous crimes deserve the ultimate penalty - I agree.

But the ultimate penalty is not to debase our society, and therefore ourselves, by killing our citizens, even the most depraved.

The ultimate penalty is life in prison, in isolation and without parole. A lifetime of being locked up in a tiny room with no possibility of real human contact is the eternity of hell on Earth.

Imagine the dramatic slowing doing of the clock as you face the rest of your natural life with nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for, nothing to live for. Except that you must live that life until your biological clock stops ticking, with full knowledge of your crime. Every second of every day you must confront the crime - for it is staring you back from the four stark walls that is your entire conscious existence.

By contrast, what does an execution achieve? Blood revenge, of course. But also - escape.

The criminal literally gets to escape from his crime and consequences. He is shot, as in Utah, or put to sleep, as in Texas, his consciousness merging into the ether. The executed no longer suffers, no longer pays for his crime.

If we want to punish the very worst crimes with the most exacting level of justice - condemn the killers and terrorists to a life of focused contemplation. Let them spend their very long days reflecting on their hellish existence - and the impossibility of escaping guilt even for a moment.