Posts Tagged ‘Pierrepoint’

Priti Patel and the Barbarity of the Reintroduction of the Death Penalty

July 27, 2019

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson, the raging, incompetent blond beast now in charge of the government, has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary. And she supports the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I’m not surprised. Johnson is a man of the Tory hard right, and there’s a section of the British public that has been demanding the return of the death penalty for years. I think support for capital punishment is probably spread between both parties, but I’m reasonably sure it’s much stronger in the Conservatives. This is the party that, after all, tries to project itself as the party of law and order and keeps demanding tougher sentencing for criminals. And that includes the death penalty for murder. It’s clear that Bozza is now very much appealing to that constituency with his appointment of Patel, although he himself won’t say whether he favours it himself.

I very well understand why some people want it back. There are unrepentant criminals responsible for the most sickening crimes, who do make you feel that they should pay the ultimate penalty. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg, who planned and presided over the horrific murder and torture of millions of individuals and the proposed extermination of entire races. Before Eichmann was executed he said something about regret and remorse being for the weak and inferior. Himmler in a notorious speech to the SS at the death camps actually boasted about the horrors they were committing, claiming that it was deeply moral and that though it was hard unpleasant, they would come through it with the moral character intact, still pure. With such twisted morality, such deep evil, you feel that death really is too good for them. And the same with serial killers and child murderers, like the Moors Murderers.

But as Mike showed in his piece, there are very, very strong arguments against capital punishment. Not least is the fact that innocent people have been convicted of murder in gross miscarriages of justice. This was Ian Hislop’s argument in a clip from Question Time he put up in his article, in which the editor of Private Eye mopped the floor with Patel. Hislop said that over the years his magazine had uncovered many such cases, and that if we had had the death penalty, then the people wrongfully convicted would be dead. He also pointed out that if we had it, we would also have turned some very unpleasant people into martyrs. By that, he means the various terrorists that have shot and bombed their way across Britain since the return of Irish nationalist terrorism in the 1970s. And some of those convicted of Irish Republican terrorist offences were victims of the miscarriage of justice. Like the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. If these men had been executed for the crime, not only would the British state have killed innocent people, but that fact would have been picked up and strenuously broadcast by the IRA as yet more evidence of British oppression. And the Islamist terrorists responsible for 7/7 and other outrages see themselves as shahids – martyrs for Islam. At one level, executing them would be giving them exactly what they want. And their deaths would be used by the other zealots for propaganda, as righteous Muslims going to their eternal reward for killing the kufar.

All Patel could do in the face of this argument was bluster about being absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt before sentencing. That’s right – judges were obliged to point out to juries in murder cases during capital punishment that if they had any doubt whatsoever, they should not convict. But as Hislop then went to argue, innocent people were still convicted even with the weight of the burden of proof. And then Patel fell back on the old canard that it acted as a deterrent. There’s no evidence of that. A friend of mine, who’d actually read Pierrepoint’s memoirs, told me that Britain’s last hangman had said that in his experience, it didn’t act as a deterrent at all. According to Peter Hitchens, who is very much one of the law and order brigade – he’d like to see people jailed for drunkenness, for example – Pierrepoint changed his mind about this just before he died. But I think the evidence is that it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to encourage violence. I can remember reading in article in one of the papers back in the ’90s – the FT perhaps, or the Independent – that there’s actually a rise in violent incidents around the time of executions in the US. The article said that it was almost as though people felt that if the state could inflict violence, so could they.

I’d also argue that there are some murderers, who should be punished, but who also can be rehabilitated. When I was working as a volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, some of my co-workers were convicts at the end of their sentence. They were working towards being finally paroled and released back into the community. It was quite an experienced working with these people. Although they were murderers, they weren’t monsters. They were articulate, and often creative and highly educated. Some were so inoffensive, you wondered what circumstances led to them committing their crime. I realise that the people I knew may not be entirely representative. The Museum only took those who were genuinely willing to work there, rather than just exploit the system. And I am not suggesting for a single minute that murder should be treated leniently. I am merely arguing that there are some people responsible for this crime, who can be usefully rehabilitated after their punishment. And there may well be mitigating circumstances in individual cases that should rule out the death penalty.

And sometime, letting a murderer live and contemplate his guilt can be more terrible than simply killing them. One of the priests at my local church in south Bristol was a prison chaplain. He told us once how a murderer in one of the prisons in which he ministered told him one day, that he had no idea how difficult it was for the prisoner to live with the knowledge of what he’d done.

Way back in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the cleric who wrote the constitution for the Knights Templars, once saved a murderer from execution. He had him taken down from the scaffold. When the crowd objected, he told them he was going to take the man to do something far harder than simply being killed, and led him off to become a monk. This was during the great age of monastic reform, when life in some of the new orders being founded was very hard.

Many of the early Christians under the Roman Empire also had very strong views against the judicial system and its punishments. They objected to the death penalty, because Our Lord had been unjustly condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians had no choice but to adopt and become responsible for the trial and punishment of criminals. But some bishops and clergy remained firmly against it to the end. One clergyman stated that he could not see how any Christian could have a man tortured or sentenced to death, and then lie back in ease and luxury on cushions afterwards. The Christians, who object to the death penalty are heirs to this tradition.

The reintroduction of the death penalty cannot be justified, not least because of the very real danger of wrongful conviction. By appointing Patel, one of its supporters, Johnson has shown how amoral he is in pandering to such vindictive populism. He, Patel and the other horrors in his cabinet are an affront to British justice. Get them out!

Vox Political: Saudis Want Britain to Respect them for Executions, Because it’s the Law

January 16, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has a report from the Independent, reporting that Adel al-Jubair, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, has given a press conference recognising that the kingdom has an image problem over its use of the death penalty. They criticise the West for its outrage over this, saying that their use of the death penalty should be respected because ‘it’s the law’. They also state that they don’t disrespect us for not having the death penalty’.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/16/saudi-arabias-foreign-affairs-minister-urges-britain-to-respect-the-kingdoms-use-of-the-death-penalty/

Way back on 26th August 2014, The Young Turks did an item on their show commenting on the Saudi use of the death penalty. After first discussing ISIS’ beheading of a suspected informer, they remarked on how Daesh weren’t alone. Saudi Arabia also inflicted the death penalty. That month the state had executed 23 people, often for minor or trivial offences. Four men from the same family were killed for importing marijuana. Another man was executed because he practised ‘black magic sorcery’. And another man, who was mentally ill and suffered from auditory hallucinations, was also killed for drugs offences.

It’s unclear whether any of these people were actually guilty. It is common practice in Saudi Arabia to force confessions from the accused. In the case of the mentally ill man, the son states that it was he, who actually did the crime. He has been sentenced to 11 years or so and something like 1,000 lashes. When the family members complained to Amnesty International, they were threatened by the authorities.

The Turks’ quote Said Boumaha, Amnesty International’s deputy director in the Middle East, on the illegality of most executions, which take place far beyond the actual remit of the law. Saudi Arabia is one of the leading practitioners of the death penalty. It is the fourth on the list of countries with the most use of the death penalty. No. 3 was Iraq in 2012, #2 was Iran, and no. 1 was China. America was no. 5. They condemn the various miscarriages of justice which have sent innocent people to the chair or the gas chamber in America, including cases where the mentally subnormal have been killed. The Turks state that it is hypocritical for America to condemn atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, while refusing to condemn the Saudis for their use of the death penalty.

Here’s the video.

It isn’t just the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, which appals and offends. Most Brits would probably vote to reinstate the death penalty if they could. This would be a mistake. There have been too many miscarriages of justice to ensure that it would only be the guilty, who would meet the hangman. Exonerating a person after their death does not bring them back, nor is it much comfort to their bereaved. As for it being a deterrent, Pierrepoint, Britain’s last hangman, stated that in his experience it had no deterrent value whatsoever. It was merely a state sanctioned form of revenge. He later changed his mind shortly before his death, but this observation – from the man, who actually did the job, deserves serious consideration.

What is particularly horrific about the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is the medieval brutality of the executions. In the West since the Enlightenment, it’s been intended to be quick and painless. Hence the limitation of the methods of execution to hanging, electrocution and gassing. These can be horrific enough. There’s a film, starring Michael Caine as a attorney, which contains a scene in which his character explains just how horrific the electric chair can be. There are two electrodes, attached to the heart and the head. The shock from one stops the heart, while the other destroys the brain. If the electrode on the head works, but the other doesn’t, the result is a blubbering vegetable. Other results can include the executed man literally frying, and cases where the liver has shot out of the man’s body through the force of the electric shock.

As for hanging, before the invention in the 19th century of the ‘long drop’ method, which breaks the criminal’s neck, death was by strangulation. This was slow and agonising. Recent films set in the past, which have hanging scenes show the friends and family of the executed man running forward to grab his legs. This is actually historically accurate. They did so in order to put their weight on the man’s body to hasten his death. Other results of the asphyxiation was that the eyes would pop out, along with a tongue that would go black. The reasons why the condemned traditionally wore the black mask was not to save them from the terrible sight of the hangman and his tools in the last moments of their lives. It was to conceal their faces, with the hideous rictus of death, and stop it from scaring the crowds.

Execution in Saudi Arabia may be worse, much worse, than this. Their methods of putting someone to death include crucifixion and beheading. In the latter, the brain may live on several seconds or even moments afterwards, so the victim may well be conscious as their head separates from their body. And scientists have also suggested that it may be accompanied by excruciating pain.

And very little needs to be said about how horrific and barbaric crucifixion is. There’s a reason the Romans used it so much on their enemies: it was the most painful, drawn-out and humiliating form of execution they could devise.The victim dies from slow asphyxiation over hours or, in some cases, days. It was used on Spartacus and his followers, and by the Romans, when they conquered Palestine. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Romans put to death 19,000 Pharisees when they suppressed a Jewish revolt.

Given the rampant injustice in its application, and the sheer horrific nature of the means of carrying it out, I see absolutely no reason why anyone should respect the death penalty, whether in Britain, America, Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the world.