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January 15, 2007

An ugly hanging in Iraq

In this post about death penalty aesthetics, I noted that, compared to what is shown at the local multiplex and in action video games and even in most episodes of CSI, I found even the uncut Saddam execution video to be quite tame.  But as detailed in this news report, the same likely could not be said about the video of the latest executions in Iraq:

Iraq hanged two of Saddam Hussein's aides early Monday, and one of the condemned was accidentally decapitated. The official video of the hangings shows Hussein's half-brother lying headless below the gallows, his severed head several yards away, the Associated Press reported.

The executioner's noose severed the head of Barzan Hassan, the former chief of Hussein's secret police, according to a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office.  "It was not like a very pretty scene," said Basam Ridha, who was one of the witnesses. Ridha said the executions were carried out with dignity and respect, and called the accidental decapitation "an act of God."

January 15, 2007 at 10:57 AM | Permalink


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If this was an "act of God," God help us all, especially those in the "civilized" pro-dp community here in the US. Based on their pronouncements about "a little pain" being OK(most recently and ironically after the Diaz execution which obviously involved quite a lot of pain), it raises the disturbing question of how much they would willing to accept just to keep the death machine rolling. The theme seems always to be the same regardless of the latest inconvenient problem at hand: "Death first - questions (let alone an honest examination) later."

Posted by: Scott Taylor | Jan 15, 2007 1:07:40 PM

So, Scott, "a little pain" for a mass murderer makes you squeamish? If that's so, that makes me squeamish.

I'm an advocate for the most stringent protections of civil rights during prosecutions and for stripping many of our criminal laws right out of the law books. I'm also for executing the most heinous murderers as a matter of course. Since all the anti-death penalty commenters around here are so dogmatic, I'll just respond in kind: Executing these people is simply the only civilized thing to do.

Posted by: Trent | Jan 15, 2007 1:22:36 PM

Scott, I fail to see what relevance the hanging of two abetted one of last century's most monstrous regimes has anything to do with the "civilized" pro-dp community here.

As for "death first", that's a caricature. I imagine most people in the pro-dp camp believe that the death penalty, a plainly constitutional punishment supported by a strong majority of Americans, is being thwarted by confusing court decisions, impossible standards and picayune rules. Thus, when inmates file last minute claims about lethal injection, the pro-dp crowd can be forgiven a bit of frustration.

Yes, Diaz suffered. It looks like they made a mistake with inserting the needle. Are we going to ban the death penalty simply because a technician made a mistake? The Constitution by no means guarantees a painless death and it is not offended by occasional errors such as in the Diaz execution. While I support efforts to maximize the training of the individuals administering the "big jab", I myself am willing to live with some chance that some murderers suffer agony. Does that make me uncivilized? No. Simply accepting a reality that perfection is a tough standard to meet, and where perfection would hamstring the operation of a punishment that has democratic legitimacy, perfection must give way. That said, of course, states should try to ensure that Diaz is not repeated. Of course, to be honest, I really didn't lose a ton of sleep over whether a murderer suffers. From a rough justice standpoint, seems to me an assumption of the risk. People suffer a hell of lot worse--e.g., Channon Christian, and they didn't even kill anyone.

As for the "civilized" crack, I find that one so interesting. Given the rate of recidivism of violent offenders and the paltry amount of incarceration they received in the not so distant past, there was a huge price in the blood of innocents paid. I ask all "civilized" anti-dp people, what's more uncivilized, foisting untolled thousands of recidivist violent criminals upon society after laughably (actually cryingly) short prison sentences or executing a handful of murderers every year.

The question, of course, answers itself. But it's not sexy to handwring over innocent people when one can display one's moral superiority by getting worked up about the fate of people like Jeffrey Lundgren.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 15, 2007 1:39:34 PM

"...Of course, to be honest, I really didn't lose a ton of sleep over whether a murderer suffers."

Thanks for your honesty, and for seconding my main point, Federalist.

Posted by: Scott Taylor | Jan 15, 2007 2:00:01 PM

"Squeamish?" Not the right word. "Made sick" by what happened in Baghdad, and by death-mongers like you who have no compunction about "looking away" from this and other abominations?


Posted by: Scott Taylor | Jan 15, 2007 2:19:12 PM

Scott, I am sure you don't lose a ton of sleep over Diaz either.

I notice you didn't answer my question . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Jan 15, 2007 2:33:32 PM

So Scott, what made you more sick, Saddam's prisons or the quick death of two butchers? Having heard first-hand the depravity of Saddam's torturers (I got political asylum for an Iraqi who was imprisoned by the regime), I think I know what makes me more sick.

By the way, Scott, this is an abomination: http://www.jacksonville.com/apnews/stories/011207/D8MK2ALO1.shtml

The fate of two of Saddam's henchmen is not

Posted by: federalist | Jan 15, 2007 2:57:28 PM

I do believe this is a waste of time.

Posted by: Scott Taylor | Jan 15, 2007 3:11:57 PM

I think we've shown that Scott is unable to debate without resort to name-calling. Making snide remarks calling into question whether those who support capital punishment are "civilized" is a typical abolitionist argument.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 15, 2007 6:22:31 PM

Somehow I doubt Ridha means "an act of god" as in a force majure, unavoidable unfortunate accident. I have a feeling he means "blessed happening." You'd think these people would know the proper drop height based on the weight of the condemned person. The decapitation was a result of intentional or reckless action on the part of the executioners.

Posted by: BruceM | Jan 15, 2007 7:29:26 PM

The problem with federalist and the pro-death-penalty folks is that they want to compare apples to oranges. Were the botched hangings "worse" than Saddams prisons? Of course not. The question really is whether we (I'm now speaking of American society, not Iraqi, which is a whole 'nother story) want to be comparable to Saddam. Or whether we want to be comparable to murderers. If so, government can certainly do murder better than a murderer. Seems to me, however, that we can shoot for a bit of a higher standard.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 15, 2007 11:55:22 PM

For a time, I supported the death penalty, in theory if not in practice. My views have changed, and I now oppose the practice.

To my mind, there is only one rationale that can justify the death penalty, and that is the idea that by killing another person, you have given up your right to live. The deterrence argument is demonstrably false (were it true, murder rates should, at a minimum, be lower in Mississippi than in Michigan, but that is not the case).

The death penalty does not achieve anything more than a life sentence without the possibility of parole; at most, it sates the bloodlust of those who believe murderers should be executed. Personally, I do not believe that is compelling enough to justify execution, regardless of the penalty's constitutionality and popularity with the public.

The executions in Iraq illustrate the point. This is a spectacle for a mob, not the administration of justice.

Stats for Berman: Law student, clerk for federal defender office.

Posted by: Alec | Jan 16, 2007 1:33:38 AM

Ahh, yes, here he is again: federalist, reveling in the death penalty. One can only imagine his screen saver is a constant replay of Saddam's death. Well, now to more specifics:
"the death penalty, a plainly constitutional punishment": so was separate but [allegedly] equal, as in Plessy v. Ferguson.
"inmates file last minute claims about lethal injection,": yes, let's just throw out habeas corpus. indeed, for this administration it is a rather annoying concept.
"I myself am willing to live with some chance that some murderers suffer agony. Does that make me uncivilized? No": well, if one's standard is Tamerlane or Vlad the Impaler, I agree, federalist, you are civilized.
"I really didn't lose a ton of sleep over whether a murderer suffers." I think it might, in your case, federalist, be more like a wet dream.
"untolled thousands of recidivist violent criminals upon society after laughably (actually cryingly) short prison sentences ": sorry, federalist, until it is "untolled millions" I will not worry.
"Having heard first-hand the depravity of Saddam's torturers " My, my federalist. One can only imagine the websites you have bookmarked on your computer.
And, btw, THESE ARE ad hominem comments.

Posted by: Bernie Kleinman | Jan 16, 2007 10:43:39 PM

Hey Bernie, perhaps if you had read my post, you'd see that I got a guy asylum, and that's how I heard a first-hand account. Since you brought up the subject of nocturnal emissions, isn't pro bono supposed to give you guys those? I know, pro bono is not quite as stimulating as going to a "Free Mumia" or "Save Tookie" teach-in, but, hey, it's better than nothing, right?

And Bernie, you should your abject ignorance. The lethal injection claims are not brought on habeas, but rather on 1983 claims or for the federal claims on Bivens or some other basis.

The rest of your commentary is too inane for a response.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 16, 2007 11:49:30 PM

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