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July 23, 2011

Are there any compelling arguments against now recording all executions?

The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by a question I was posed by a reporter yesterday.  Because I am a fan of transparency and because I often sense that purported harms from public exposure in this context (and others) are overstated, while potential benefits are underappreciated, I had a hard time coming up with any arguments against recording execution that seemed to me even remotely compelling.  

I recognize that, as an academic and blogger, it may be personal interest rather than objective astuteness that prevents me from recognizing strong arguments against recording of all executions.  Still, in the wake of the Georgia execution being videotaped without any apparent difficulties this week (basics here), I want to tee up the question in the title of the post here.  Any new thoughts, thoughtful readers?

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July 23, 2011 at 08:57 AM | Permalink


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Is the Georgia video a closed record or in the public domain?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jul 23, 2011 9:01:00 AM


Posted by: Steve Prof | Jul 23, 2011 9:09:16 AM


It's under seal with the court. I'm not even sure yet whether the lawyers involved will get to view it.

Given what happened with the last recorded execution in the US (from California in the early 90s), I suspect that is how it will remain. For all I know the tape will be destroyed if it is determined to not show anything useful (which from the description of the execution I would expect to be the case).

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 23, 2011 9:14:50 AM

As a piece of evidence in the various lethal injection suits, I think videos of executions have great value. However, I think that will change once a video is leaked to the internet.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jul 23, 2011 10:23:30 AM

Contagion. People will imitate anyone in the news for the attention, even if the outcome is horrible. Contagion is not necessarily of murder, but one must consider the excess 100's of suicide that will follow.

After the televising of Saddam's hanging, hundreds of people died by hanging themselves. Dozens were kids.


He said many curse words in Arabic. Millions got to hear them.

The Supremacy dreamt of this execution, too, leaping off a platform as if starting off on a ski jump slope, but hanging from a rope. More exhilarating then nightmare.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 23, 2011 11:00:12 AM

I was actually somewhat surprised that there wasn't an official recording of Saddam's execution made and released. If there had been such and everyone present knew it the event likely would have been far more somber. It's not like the Arab world is opposed to public executions, though I can understand not holding his in public for security reasons.

Does Saudi Arabia still round up passersby to have them witness executions and punish them for not watching?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 23, 2011 11:50:14 AM

a big Bravo for Supremacy! He's right.

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Jul 23, 2011 12:58:28 PM

I was not surprised that an execution was finally taped, especially given the reports of probable painful distress from previous executions. In some ways it is right that an official record be available as a monitor of procedure, however distasteful and unnecessary. I was not surprised either that the execution procedure went without apparent hitch on this occasion - the authorities could not risk anything less. However, death should never become a spectacle. I see comments about what has happened in the past, as if public hangings etc were acceptable and a model for us today. The thing about civilization as most people (I fervently hope)understand it, is that mankind is continually progressing towards a more perfect state of respect for each other and for life. Public executions, hangings, stoning etc in Iran may apparently (and correctly) be vilified in the US, but excite the minds of commentators on the death penalty and executions in the US. There is surely an undeniable sickness about that, just as there is in the maintenance of the practice of execution itself. On balance therefore, I see the taping of executions as a dangerous precedent. I would much rather that those officials responsible for ordering an execution, including the judiciary and Governors, be required to observe the consequences personally, at least by live, non-recordable video link. It may be instructive to see if they have the stomach for it. We know that many others - prison wardens, clergy etc - over time do not.

Posted by: peter | Jul 23, 2011 1:20:01 PM


My only problem with Iranian executions is the reasons they are carried out, and sometimes the degree of proof accepted. I have no problem whatsoever with the fact that Iran performs executions, though I will agree that some of their methods would not pass 8th amendment scrutiny.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 23, 2011 1:44:03 PM




Perhaps you, Bill, Kent, and Doug can all move to Iran - where the patriotic fervor you love is on fuller display.

Posted by: anon | Jul 23, 2011 1:57:50 PM


I fail the share the outrage of either activists or the editors of the Guardian. I would in fact say that it is entirely appropriate to expose children to such, I believe that pain and experience are both excellent teaching tools, tools that sadly have fallen out of favor in the US and from what I've read even more so in western Europe. Again, the problem is the nature of the crimes being punished, not the punishment itself.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 23, 2011 2:48:46 PM

Soronel - you have misdirected your last comment. I am not anon. As for the view expressed ..... I would say that you are probably on your own on this one.

Posted by: peter | Jul 23, 2011 3:21:45 PM

Claudio: You may enjoy that in this dream, I was not tied up. I was handed a cup of espresso, knocked it back, and I lept to my hanging death voluntarily and enthusiastically, Alberto Tomba style.

Even the Supremacy had at least a traumatic dream after watching the execution of Saddam.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 23, 2011 4:57:53 PM

Close your ears, Claudio. I do not want you hearing me make an abolitionist argument. But I want fairness credit from the cult criminals that frequent this site.

1) General deterrence is unlawful. It violates the procedural due (real) rights to a fair hearing for a defendant to be put to death to deter the speculative crimes of another, unknown to anyone in the case, and only potentially murdering others in the future.

If a general deterrence effect exists, any number of prevented murders are likely cancelled by contagion to innocent people committing suicide.

2) Add this to my other abolitionist argument. The sole cruelty of the modern death penalty is the set date. Not even a moribund patient at death's door knows a set date of death. This is a kindness to the suffering patient. The set date violates the Eighth Amendment. Japan announces the date of execution the day of execution, which solves that objection.

To my knowledge abolitionists have not used these compelling, real, not trivial arguments.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 23, 2011 5:14:00 PM

suppie forgot his drugs, again

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Jul 24, 2011 6:07:04 AM

Doug Berman was quoted in this article today:


If we are going to tape executions to determine if there are any "problems with an execution" (to quote the article), it would seem logical to do so consistently. It gives you a fuller picture of things. And, I think that is a good policy.

There is a concern raised that eventually it will be leaked. I don't know if this is a problem (I think private executions with viewings by select representatives is acceptable, but I can see the value of a more open process), but if it is a concern, it is balanced off by the value of determining if the execution was performed correctly. This has benefits to both those for and against the death penalty. One side can show it is done correctly, the other will point to problems or at the very least, be more satisfied that one specific problem is not present.

I'm not sure if it was mentioned, but the other execution that was not stayed by the USSC in part involved a survivor trying to block the execution, since killing the person was against the survivor's religion. There has been cases where family members of victims and such oppose executions. But, "the people" convicted the person, it wasn't a private affair. So, they don't have a veto.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 24, 2011 9:50:49 AM

I actually think executions should be televised. Then the people can see just how anestetic there are. The slaughter in Norway just illustrates how the DP has a role and is invaluable. The psycho killer and murderer will at most get 21 years for killing 90 plus humans. Thats about right in liberal looney europe. No life sentences and no death penalty. So the guy will be out to murder more in 15 years. You get what you vote for. And life means nothing when you only punish rapists, murders and child molesters with 5-10 years. Liberal EU politics are too blame. And the liberal press here wants the US to emulate the EU and Mexico. They want use to get rid of the death penalty and executions. First because they are unjust, now they are too costly. Well the EU is now a joke. Just glad we have laws against these pyschos and that they will get put to death or spend LIFE in prison. Next time you see an anti-dp editorial remind them of this nut case. Maybe they will get it through their thick skulls eventually, but dont hold your breath.

Posted by: DeanO | Jul 24, 2011 10:04:42 AM

The last comment is curious. If the penalty is so "anesthetic," it is unclear to me that it will be much of a deterrent (or act of redress) to someone who wants to kill 100 people, including many children. People are willing to die for much less and die in more horrid ways. The alternative is not sentences of 5-20 years.

It also bears repeating that one need not be a "liberal" to oppose the death penalty, which is opposed on various grounds. If "vengeance is yours God," e.g., is your belief, it might be quite conservative to not entrust it to the state. The Catholic Church, not quite liberal, opposes it after all. Also, one need not be a liberal to oppose killing the insane. That is "nutcases."

Anyway, if Norway doesn't consider having the public watch this person, after duly convicted, die via a needle in his arm a useful way response to mass murder, I won't find it too unreasonable.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 24, 2011 10:47:46 AM


I'm sure by the time he's released he'll be deeply sorry for his actions and will sincerely promise to never do it again.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 24, 2011 10:51:25 AM

Joe stated: "The Catholic Church, not quite liberal, opposes it after all."

Actually, its position is more nuanced than that. In general, yes, the RCC is against the DP but not because it is "inherently evil", the position it has taken regarding abortion. In fact, the RCC has verified that there are cirumstances where it is appropriate. However, the Church feels that because of technology, the need for the DP is very limited, as we can protect the safety of others without execution (I personally disagree because it fails to acknowledge the danger faced by other inmates and staff who must deal with these people).

And although you did not address this directly, I must also point out that Catholics are not required to oppose the DP (they are required to oppose abortion). There are no ex cathedra statements regarding the DP.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 24, 2011 11:41:08 AM

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