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August 22, 2013

Making a potent argument for executions by firing squad rather than lethal injection

Firing_squadRobert Blecker, responding in part to the seemingly endless litigation and problems surrounding lethal injection execution protocols, has this new provocative CNN commentary under the headline "With death penalty, let punishment truly fit the crime." The full piece is a must-read, and here are excerpts highlighting why:

No matter how vicious the crime, no matter how vile the criminal, some death penalty opponents feel certain that nobody can ever deserve to die -- even if that person burned children alive, massacred a dozen strangers in a movie theater, or bombed the Boston Marathon.  Other opponents admit the worst of the worst of the worst do deserve to die. They just distrust the government ever to get it right.

Now that pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply the lethal drugs that U.S. corrections departments have used for years to execute criminals -- whether from their own genuine moral objections or to escape a threatened economic boycott -- states have begun to experiment.  Death penalty opponents, who call themselves abolitionists, then protest the use of these untried drugs that just might cause a condemned killer to feel pain as he dies.

Let the punishment fit the crime.  We've mouthed that credo for centuries, but do we really mean it?  We retributivists who believe in justice would reward those who bring us pleasure, but punish severely those who sadistically or wantonly cause us pain.  A basic retributive measure -- like for like or giving a person a taste of his own medicine -- satisfies our deepest instincts for justice.

When the condemned killer intentionally tortured helpless victims, how better to preserve some direct connection short of torture than by that murderer's quick but painful death?  By ensuring death through anesthesia, however, we have nearly severed pain from punishment....

I, too, oppose lethal injection, but not because these untried new drugs might arbitrarily cause pain, but because they certainly cause confusion.

Lethal injection conflates punishment with medicine. The condemned dies in a gurney, wrapped in white sheets with an IV in his veins, surrounded by his closest kin, monitored by sophisticated medical devices.  Haphazardly conceived and hastily designed, lethal injection appears, feels, and seems medical, although its sole purpose is to kill....

Publicly opposing this method of execution, I have found odd common ground with Deborah Denno, a leading abolitionist scholar who relentlessly attacks lethal injection protocols. Although Denno vigorously opposes all capital punishment, we both agree that the firing squad, among all traditional methods, probably serves us best.  It does not sugarcoat, it does not pretend, it does not shamefully obscure what we do. We kill them, intentionally, because they deserve it.

Some people may support the firing squad because it allows us to put blanks in one of the guns: An individual sharpshooter will never know whether he actually killed the condemned.  This strikes me as just another symptom of our avoidance of responsibility for punishment. The fact is, in this society, nobody takes responsibility for punishing criminals. Corrections officers point to judges, while judges point to legislators, and legislators to corrections.  Anger and responsibility seem to lie everywhere elsewhere -- that is, nowhere.  And where we cannot fully escape responsibility -- as with a firing squad -- we diffuse it....

Ironically, even as we recoil from punishing those who most deserve it, we readily over-punish those who don't.  A "war on drugs" swells our prisons. We punish addiction and call it crime; we indiscriminately and immorally subject a burglar or car thief to the same daily life in prison we also reserve for rapist murderers.

The time has come to make punishment more nearly fit the crime. To face what we do, and acknowledge, with regret but without shame, that the past counts.

So part of me hopes the abolitionists succeed with their latest campaign against death by lethal injection.  We should banish this method.  Let the abolitionists threaten to boycott gun manufacturers.  See where that gets them.  Meanwhile, the rest of us will strive to keep our covenants with victims, restore a moral balance, and shoot to kill those who deserve to die.

Rest assured, when we can only achieve justice by killing a vicious killer, We, the People will find a constitutional way to do it.

August 22, 2013 at 09:56 AM | Permalink


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:-: Only capital punishment supported by liberals (or merely tolerated?):

|Homeowner shoots, kills escaped prisoner in Iowa | Published August 21, 2013

BEDFORD, Iowa – … Rodney Long was shot to death after he broke into a retired farm couple's home in
Bedford about 10:15 p.m. Monday, awakening them. Long, who was armed with a handgun, cut their telephone
lines and used their cell phone, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Mitch Mortvedt said. After about
four hours, Jerome Mauderly, 71, shot Long with a shotgun in the kitchen of the home he shares with his wife, Carolyn, 66.
Long [a convicted felon] was serving a prison sentence for burglary and was scheduled for release
in September 2014. He climbed a fence and escaped from the prison in Clarinda on Friday morning.

On Sunday, Long shot and wounded Taylor County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Wyckoff near New Market, [in the chest
and arm] about 10 miles northwest of Bedford, Mortvedt said. Wyckoff had been dispatched to check on someone
walking along Iowa Highway 2. Wyckoff sought cover nearby and the gunman jumped into the deputy's vehicle and took off.
Iowa officers, with help from Missouri officers and a Nebraska State Patrol aircraft, had been searching
for Long since Sunday night, scouring about 16 square miles .. They had searched the Mauderlys' property three times.

An Iowa State Patrol officer was nearby and quickly responded, finding Long
face down on the kitchen floor, Mortvedt said. No one else was injured.| www.foxnews.com

:-:[When LE fails, Remington doesn't. Don't mess with the salt of the earth. Best result for everyone except R. Long]

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 22, 2013 10:29:52 AM

In a weird way, I agree that the firing squad would be preferable to the death penalty. Not because I believe those condemned to die deserve it (indeed, I think all killing is wrong), but because it would be a boon for the abolitionist movement.

To clumsily borrow an analogy, people seeing the sausage get made might well lose their appetite.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 22, 2013 10:38:55 AM

All killing is wrong? Do you REALLY believe that?

I would also have no problem with people seeing the sausage being made as long as they saw the ENTIRE process, including why we needed to make the sausage. Video of the body parts of the kids in the Murrah Federal Building, the video of Daniel Pearl being beheaded, the body parts in Dahmer's residence, etc. When I trained for corrections, I saw a video of a guy getting his head cut off in the Auburn C.F. kitchen with a huge soup can lid (it took about 20 minutes), with the killer then walking into the full mess hall holding the head up for everyone to see. Or let's show the pictures of Donna Payant's body found in the dump after inmate Lemuel Smith raped, bit repeatedly, killed, shoved into a garbage bag, and threw in the dumpster.

I suspect that you will get different results than you wished for.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Aug 22, 2013 10:59:59 AM

Guy --

"To clumsily borrow an analogy, people seeing the sausage get made might well lose their appetite."

And people seeing child sex/torture/murders like those gleefully inflicted on the Petite girls over several hours might well lose their appetite for abolition.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 22, 2013 11:04:03 AM

The public as a whole support the death penalty, but like Guy suggests, are wary of actually seeing it. The firing squad is a bit too direct for them though it appeals to some, there is a chance it might be less problematic than lethal injection as to mistake and it meets the approval of a few for religious reasons (particularly why a place like Utah used it). The "responsibility" cited by the op-ed wants to be avoided. This is something the public, not some stereotype abolitionist, holds as a belief as a whole.

But, as to "fit the crime," I don't really think injection or firing squad on that level matters much. A heinous murderer (or rapist/torturer) is so much different than the carefully set up execution procedure that has to meet minimal standards of due process and decency that the small way a firing squad might advance that interest doesn't impress much.

If some people "deserve to die," it is the death that should be what we ultimately wish to deliver. Trying to make the death more like the crime, an eye for an eye, is at this level blocked by the 8A. Civilized criminal justice regimes don't act like heinous criminals.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 22, 2013 11:56:07 AM

TarlsQtr1 --

Great minds continue to think alike. It's really easy to be queasy about punishment -- any punishment -- if you refuse to look at its cause.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 22, 2013 12:13:35 PM

I agree with Joe...and Bill Otis...& TarIsQtr 1 especially.

""He died an extremely lot easier than my daughter did .. He got a spiritual advisor, the choice of a last meal. I wish I'd had a last chance to be with my daughter," commented Elizabeth Harvey after witnessing Robert Lee Willie's electrocution."
[pbs.org/frontline, 1997]

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 22, 2013 12:13:47 PM

There will be no substantive death penalty with any effect on public safety, until the lawyer hierarchy is eradicated. They are playing a gruesome game in which 17,000 victims, mostly minority, nearly all males, pay with their lives. They have the system precisely tuned to generate $billions in trial and appellate fees for themselves. For example, if you banned the death penalty as happened before and in several states? Billions in appellate fees are lost to the profession. If you executed 10,000 people a year, there would be no criminals, and the entire specialty would have to go home. So you have this system of rare, arbitrary executions generating endless parsing and argument. Perfect for the lawyer profession. Horrible for everyone else, including the prisoners, guards and visitors on the receiving end of the defendants murderous aggressions.

Because this system of pretextual legal arguing is a fraud on the taxpayer, it a crime itself. Self regulation is a human impossibility. I would like to see direct action by night riders applying the lash to appellate judges promulgating this scam. To deter.

I do not know if I would have the physical courage to personally dispatch a child rapist/murderer, as I want others to do. I do know, I would not have the slightest hesitation in dispatching an appellate court judge. It would be a patriotic duty to save our nation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 22, 2013 1:04:51 PM

Under U.S. law killing is only justified when there is the imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. That is what the Zimmerman case was all about. The conservatives that supported Zimmerman turn that on its head with the DP. Even physician-assisted suicide is based on self defense against what ever disease is torturing the patient. The same for abortion when the mother is at risk. The same for war, etc..

But with the DP, there is a long and protracted laying in wait and a in your face premeditation, the very things that make murder more heinous. But this killing is different because it is done for moral reasons. Wait, how much murder is done for moral reasons? Take the serial killer that is cleaning the streets of prostitutes or the homeless. Or the bomber who does it for Allah. Or the woman who burns her bed because sleeping hubby is abusive. All moral reasons even if not sanctioned by the government.

IOW, there is a bit of hypocrisy and it is no wonder states with the DP suffer more murders after an execution, the brutalization effect. If nothing else, it confuses the moral standing. What is really ironic is the hubbub is about the government having to abide by its own laws and regulations re the death penalty. How dare DP lawyers challenge the moral and the righteous and expect them to obey the law when the murderer didn't. They ought to be executed!

What's more, the wrongly convicted are dead no matter the means. What are the ends that justify that?

Posted by: George | Aug 22, 2013 3:59:28 PM

Tarls --

All killing is wrong? Do you REALLY believe that?

I do. Killing can sometimes be justified, but that doesn't make the killing less wrong, only the killer less culpable. After all, you only ever have to justify things that are wrong to begin with (or else you could just dispense with the justification).

Posted by: Guy | Aug 22, 2013 4:02:45 PM

Guy --

Your position is incoherent, as I'm sure you know at some level. Sometimes killing is not only morally right but heroic, e.g., American soldiers who killed concentration camp guards before they could gas any more Jews, gays and Gypsies.

You can't possibly believe what you say.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 22, 2013 4:32:15 PM

The overwhelming majority of us will have rough deaths, filled with anxiety, pain, uncertainty, and for months if not years. Why should the reasonable defendant expect a perfect, quick, and painless death? The method does not matter because the person is dead. The death penalty is not even a punishment. It is an expulsion. Punishment teaches the person to misbehave less often. Death ends all behavior and awareness. The death penalty should not be covered by the Eighth Amendment.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 22, 2013 5:09:35 PM


Bill beat me to the punch. Your position is incoherent.

If you interrupt a thug killing your family, you are not "less culpable". You are right, even morally obligated, to take him out.

Posted by: Tarlsqtr1 | Aug 22, 2013 7:09:59 PM

As in the last words of Gary Gilmore "Lets do it."

Posted by: ? | Aug 22, 2013 7:49:06 PM

Guy's logic seems to be something like this.

You have to justify the killing because it is a bad thing to do and at best is only legitimate in certain cases. See also, just war theory. When legitimate, the killing is on some level "right." But, in an ideal situation, we would never do it at all. When something should be avoided when possible, it still retains some sort of bad quality to it.

But, killing in self-defense is still "less wrong." Being less wrong doesn't suddenly make it totally right. We still should avoid it when possible, since it is an at best necessary evil. There remains shades of wrong. So, that part is dubious to me.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 22, 2013 9:45:48 PM

Guy:: ?|? “After all, you only ever have to justify things that are wrong to begin with (or else you could just dispense with the justification).” ?|?

At times it becomes necessary to explain things that are right to such as a purposeful ignoramus.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 22, 2013 9:59:48 PM

Severing the carotid artery would allow salvaging transplantable organs .

Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Aug 23, 2013 8:38:26 AM

Joe --

I didn't think Guy's position could become any more incoherent, but you proved me wrong.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2013 10:29:41 AM

I appreciate it, Bill.

Seriously, the idea that killing is a bad thing that can be defended in narrow cases based on need w/o it suddenly becoming "good" is not a totally strange concept. The idea of "necessary evils" state the basic principle.

But, his comment about the killings being "less wrong" is confusing, because it is hard to understand how self-defense is not "less wrong" (even if for the sake of argument we say it is "wrong") than murder for financial gain.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 23, 2013 10:34:13 AM

Joe --

I would probably be easier going with you if you hadn't said last week, utterly falsely, that George Bush, for whom I worked, had "filled up" federal prison with low level pot offenders.

I challenged you to come up with the figures to prove that, and you just walked away. It's just not true. Almost everyone in federal prison for drugs is there either for (1) dealing or (2) hard drugs. The idea that those prisons are or were "filled" with those who did nothing more than smoke a joint or two (i.e., are "low level pot offenders") is not merely false, it's preposterous.

Why won't you admit this and retract?

P.S. Guy's position is incoherent any way you cut it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2013 12:23:51 PM

I would appreciate if Guy responded to me so that I can get a full sense of what he means. The idea that certain things are necessary but still "evil" is not incoherent. The "no better" part, I agree, sounds incoherent.

As to the first thing, that's ironic. I found what you are talking about:

"The same applies to prosecutorial discretion or did the jails fill up during the Bush years with low level marijuana offenders?"


Did you miss the 'or'? The very point of the comment -- to address concerns of Obama applying allegedly excessive discretion -- is that Bush DID NOT do that!

Posted by: Joe | Aug 23, 2013 2:04:18 PM

Joe --

"The very point of the comment -- to address concerns of Obama applying allegedly excessive discretion -- is that Bush DID NOT do that!"

I went back to the thread and re-read your comment. My interpretation of it at the time was wrong and your notation today is right. Your often elliptical way of putting things threw me off, but too bad for me. The error was mine.

I apologize for and retract it.

P.S. Guy is STILL incoherent any way you slice it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2013 4:54:03 PM

Thou shalt not kill. Sixth Commandment.
Except in Texas where there is an exception: Y'all Can.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Aug 24, 2013 9:42:36 PM

@Liberty First

People who do not know the Bible should not attempt to quote it. Like you, they get it painfully wrong...

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Aug 24, 2013 11:42:00 PM

Lib: This is not a sarcastic question. I am curious, do you include plants and animals in your prohibition of killing?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2013 12:53:41 AM

loved this tarls and i agree completely

"If you interrupt a thug killing your family, you are not "less culpable". You are right, even morally obligated, to take him out."

One question though if the "thug" is in a police uniform and is dragging your family member down a set of concrete steps allowing said family member's head to slam into each step along the way. Resulting in brain death is that legal grounds to shoot the retarded little nazi wannabee and his friends who helped?

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 26, 2013 1:22:47 AM


It is not legitimate to do so AFTER the fact.

During the event, theoretically yes. Realistically, we probably both know that you are not going to come out on the winning end of that one.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Aug 26, 2013 9:24:56 AM

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