"An execution is an execution."
March 14, 2008 12:35 AM   Subscribe

Mecca's Executioner.   A 2006 interview with Abdullah Bin Said al-Bishi, a man who wields his sword as one of Saudi Arabia's official executioners. (11:30 minute .wvx Windows Media file or written transcripts.)
posted by paulsc (73 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. Very interesting.
posted by darkstar at 12:44 AM on March 14, 2008


There is no negotiating with him, once the heads have ripened. When it's harvesting time, he is the most suited for the job.

I can't get the video to load, so can somebody tell me if this line is delivered by the lead singer of a death metal band?

Very interesting links.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:52 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Yes, I have executed many people who were my friends..."
posted by agentofselection at 12:57 AM on March 14, 2008


Very interesting. This is morbid, but I was interested in the style of the sword used. One handed, with a broad blade, but a very flat profile, and a deep curve. Looks very effective for shearing cuts, which is a mercy. For those who wonder how effective blades can be on flesh, here's a video of a dead deer being cut in half with a sword. I wonder, in the end, if this isn't a more merciful method of execution than the ones used in the U.S. (Not that I am in favor of executions, but if you must, you ought to do it swiftly and kindly.)
posted by agentofselection at 1:03 AM on March 14, 2008


Watching something like this is anxiety-provoking, saddening, and strangely appealing, all at the same time.

All death penalties are barbaric. As beheading goes, this is probably less traumatic at the time of death, compared to what has happened to captives of various terrorist groups. It's hard to believe that anyone could do this to another human being.

Just like strapping someone on to a gurney to inject lethal poison. It's barbaric.

All that said, it goes to show how malleable we are. Here's a guy who has kids, eats his breakfast, says his prayers, and then hoes out and kills people, without guilt.

It shows we're all capable of the most horrific things, given the right circumstances, and environment.
posted by MetaMan at 1:08 AM on March 14, 2008


I always figures the swiftest and kindest method of execution was one that didn't just separate the brain from the body, but instead totally destroyed the brain in an instant (faster than the reflex response).

If I had to pick the method of my own demise, I think I'd ask to have a grand piano dropped on my head.
posted by Richard Daly at 1:10 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I want to be ejected out of a catapult on fire into the heart of an exploding sun.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:30 AM on March 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


I don't know if a grand piano would be capable of providing enough immediate brain pulverization for an immediate death. I'd go for a thousand-pound safe dropped on my head myself. But with my luck, that would be the moment I discover I'm a cartoon character.
posted by wendell at 1:52 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


It shows we're all capable of the most horrific things, given the right circumstances, and environment.

That was proved beyond a reasonable doubt ages ago (cf. ordinary Germans working in the death camps in World War II, gassing all those "undesirables"). Or, perhaps, the Milgram experiments.
posted by WalterMitty at 2:27 AM on March 14, 2008


I can't get the video to load, so can somebody tell me if this line is delivered by the lead singer of a death metal band?

Nope, just narration voice over, as the video shows the executioner at home, displaying his sword.
posted by paulsc at 2:38 AM on March 14, 2008




Surely Ringo's not that keen to be the last surviving Beatle ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:51 AM on March 14, 2008


The banality of evil.
posted by Devils Slide at 3:15 AM on March 14, 2008


Here's a guy who has kids, eats his breakfast, says his prayers, and then hoes out and kills people, without guilt.

The thing is, he doesn't think he's doing anything wrong. According to him (or at least as far as my knowledge goes about people who believe in these sorts of executions)--they think they are perfectly entitled to take a man's life by chopping off his head (or in other cases, where cutting off the limbs is considered enough of a penalty, in case of theft). It's sanctioned by the Quran after all. Except, there's also all that stuff about living in a land where everyone is equal, where no one is above the law, where it is the obligation of the rich to distribute their wealth amongst the poor and needy, and not display their ostentatiousness. But then who cares about that when the Kingdom has so many Princes to worry about.
posted by hadjiboy at 3:45 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


ps, welcome back, paul!
posted by hadjiboy at 3:46 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Chop Chop Square

"It doesn't matter to me: two, four, 10 - as long as I'm doing God's will, it doesn't matter how many people I execute".

Photographs
posted by hadjiboy at 4:25 AM on March 14, 2008


Apparently it's easy to get ahead in this line of work.
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:28 AM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I smell a sequel to Guillotine in the works!
posted by absalom at 5:09 AM on March 14, 2008


Yay Memri TV, showing the bad Arabs from a country whose despotic king is backed up by the US and Israel.

Fuck Memri
posted by zouhair at 5:38 AM on March 14, 2008


Don't forget... the States also has its executioners. And I'd far rather get my head chopped off than die by legal injection, which is agonizing — it may look like the person's dying peacefully, but he or she just can't move or make a sound to indicate the pain. I'd rather have the one quick blow to the back of my neck. Supposing the executioner got it on the first slice, of course.
posted by orange swan at 6:15 AM on March 14, 2008


"lethal injection", though "legal injection" is also unfortunately correct.
posted by orange swan at 6:16 AM on March 14, 2008


While I can, and do, get worked up over the "crimes" Saudi Arabia chooses to execute people for, the fact that their system of criminal justice is so terrible it can actually make the USA's look good by comparison, etc, I really can't find any outrage at their method of execution. Dead is dead, they don't deliberately torture to death (though I'd imagine a botched beheading is terrible), and as orange swan points out a case can be made that lethal injection is quite a bit worse.

I do wonder why the continued use of swords? Is it mandated by the Q'ran, or is it merely warrior-cult macho? You'd think a guillotine would be more efficient.
posted by sotonohito at 7:17 AM on March 14, 2008


There has never been a more pressing need for Star Trek-style disintegration machines.

Or a phaser set to kill.

Or to overload.
posted by bwg at 7:21 AM on March 14, 2008


I do wonder why the continued use of swords?

If I ever get to choose my method of execution, I'm going for beheading with a sword. I don't know if it'll cut down on my suffering or not, but it'll sure looking fucking boss.

No, wait... If I ever get to choose my method of execution, I'll get a sword, and I'll get shot to death while charging a column of archers. The a weeping group of garment-rending supermodels will load my corpse onto a longship, set it on fire, and push it out into the sea.

Time to write up an AskMe about which countries allow you to pick how they put you to death.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:17 AM on March 14, 2008


There can be only one.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:17 AM on March 14, 2008


Further proof that there is no god. Just ignorant humans to carry out his will.
posted by photoslob at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2008


paulsc!!!!!!!!

interesting link, thanks.
posted by Rumple at 8:25 AM on March 14, 2008


"It's all very normal."
posted by LordSludge at 8:40 AM on March 14, 2008


That was interesting... by an odd coincidence I watched Pierrepoint / The Last Hangman yesterday, a film about Britian's most prolific executioner; which I would recommend. Like al-Bishi the job was handed on from father to son (though not officially) and for the most part he treated it as a just job of work.

Though in retirement Pierrepoint become a strong opponent of capital punishment, can't see al-Bishi doing the same some how.

Interesting in this video is that the interview is possibly the banal possible about such an ultimately horrifc subject - leading lots of inadvertent black humour ('He can't be with us yet as he's currently busy with another execution)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:56 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ironically, because American society is conflicted about the death penalty, we pick an execution method that looks to us most like sleep, without any consideration of the experience of the victim.

In a country like Saudi Arabia, where no such conflict of conscience exists, the victim is dispatched in the least painless way possible. Of course, that's a coincidence arising out of tradition. If mercy were the actual object, the prisoner would simply be shot up with a lethal dose of heroin.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2008


One of my first posts on Metafilter was on this theme: here.
posted by Falconetti at 9:48 AM on March 14, 2008


If I ever get to choose the method of my own death, I'm going to demand that they stake me out and let me get immolated by a fire breathing dragon.

Then we will all wait while they go and find me one.
posted by quin at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2008


wendell> But with my luck, that would be the moment I discover I'm a cartoon character

You notice that when you see they're dropping an anvil with an Acme logo on you.
posted by raygirvan at 10:12 AM on March 14, 2008


I was reading somewhere (not sure where) that the British colonial practice of tying you to the mouth of a cannon and firing it was the most humane (as in brain-pulverising) method as long as your head was over the cannon's mouth.
posted by athenian at 10:40 AM on March 14, 2008


Total Executions by country
1. China
2. Congo
3. USA
4. Iran
5. Egypt

Saudi Arabia is #8, and #11 per capita (no pun intended). The US is #20 per capita.
posted by cell divide at 11:02 AM on March 14, 2008


Wikipedia has more updated numbers, it looks like, those above are 10 years old.
posted by cell divide at 11:04 AM on March 14, 2008


Saudi Arabia is #8, and #11 per capita (no pun intended).

I'm laughing. I hate myself for it, but I can't stop laughing anyway.
posted by orange swan at 11:13 AM on March 14, 2008


From cell divide's Wikipedia link:

There are several methods of execution, including: decapitation, electrocution, the firing squad or other sorts of shooting, the gas chamber, hanging, and lethal injection.

I'd consider beheading the most humane of all of these.
posted by orange swan at 11:17 AM on March 14, 2008


Screw that noise. We should return to the mazzolato, wherein the prisoner is dropped with a blow to the head from a mace, his throat is slit, and then the executioner does a dance on the condemned's abdomen.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:49 AM on March 14, 2008


It's telling that he has killed "many" of his friends. This guy either runs in some bad circles or the government executes a lot of government employees.
posted by pwb503 at 11:50 AM on March 14, 2008


Wasn't there a scene in a Monty Python movie where a guy got to choose his method of execution?
posted by bitteroldman at 1:18 PM on March 14, 2008


Wasn't there a scene in a Monty Python movie where a guy got to choose his method of execution?

Ah yes, The Meaning of Life
posted by bitteroldman at 1:21 PM on March 14, 2008


I'd consider beheading the most humane of all of these.

I think that from a physical perspective, you're probably right. From a psychological perspective, though, I think that beheading provokes a much more horrifying visceral reaction. It's such an utter destruction of personhood. I would imagine that the anticipation of this is part of the punishment. There's a reason that it's been so enduringly popular since antiquity, and it's not because it's warm and cuddly.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 1:27 PM on March 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


fearfulsymmetry: That was interesting... by an odd coincidence I watched Pierrepoint / The Last Hangman yesterday, a film about Britian's most prolific executioner; which I would recommend.

Ah, I just saw this a few weeks ago (weirdest birthday-dinner choice ever) and it was very compelling. As someone opposed to capital punishment (and happy to live somewhere that it's not performed) I felt a strange mix of disgust, confusion and admiration for Pierrepoint (admiration for his desire for the act to be committed quickly and as painlessly as possible.) Really an interesting film.
posted by loiseau at 1:35 PM on March 14, 2008


Were I to be executed and could choose my own form of death, I'd ask to win the lottery. I'd be dead in three years.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:37 PM on March 14, 2008


Beheading is about freedom of the head.
posted by Free word order! at 1:47 PM on March 14, 2008


This was pretty creepy.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:22 PM on March 14, 2008


“I wonder, in the end, if this isn't a more merciful method of execution than the ones used in the U.S.”

So we’d, what, chemically shrivel thieves’ hands?

I find the anti-U.S. sentiment in this thread disturbing. Jesus, call a spade a spade. It’s barbaric and horrible to chop off someone’s limb for commiting a crime and absolutely appalling to chop their heads off in the middle of the street as a gory warning to others not to piss the wrong people off.
That’s not done in the U.S.
Yes, the U.S. supports them (and Bush apparently enjoys holding their hands) but I mean damn “Abdallah, we've heard that one day, you were executing several people, and the sword broke. Is that true? Tell us that story, please.
Abdallah Al-Bishi: It was the handle that came off, not the blade.”

Some of y’all are actually positing that what they’re doing there is more humane than what happens here? So, what they moved to lethal injection over here because it’s *worse*?
(Never heard of Antoine Lavoisier (guy who agreed to blink as long as he could after being guillotined and blinked for about 20 seconds)? Even if that’s not true there is a good deal of time that useful consciousness can be maintained if oxygen is cut off to the brain (space decompression f’rinstance or cardiac arrest) the brain has enough oxygen stored for metabolism to persist, say, 7 to 15 seconds.)

But the human neck and spine are pretty tough, it usually takes several blows to sever the head (took three to take off Mary Queen of Scot’s head) and it’s extremely gory.

When they execute you in Saudi, typically you’re given tranquilizers and blindfolded. They take you to a public square or parking lot in the middle of the day and lay down some plastic. Your hands and feet ar shackled and you are taken to the middle of the plastic where you’re forced to kneel. Someone reads your name and your crime and the executioner is handed a sword, warms up, and then he jabs you in the back with the blade.
This makes you jerk and raise your head. Then he takes your head off - ideally in one stroke - and your head goes flying two or three feet. Paramedics bring your head to a doctor who pinches your neck shut (to stop the bleeding) and sews the head back on your body. Then they wrap you in the plastic they spread out in the street and bury you in an unmarked grave in the prison cemetery.

Now - all that aside, they execute people for homosexuality (sometimes they’re nice and they’ll just amputate something, meh, another day) apostasy, sodomy ...they execute people for witchcraft - got that? Witchcraft.

The name Fawza Falih ring a bell? The religious police beat a confession out of her, forced her to sign something she couldn’t read, broke their own procedural laws which are bullshit in the first place and still couldn’t get it through the system because everyone knew it was crap. So they sentenced her to death on a “discretionary” basis, for the benefit of “public interest” and to “protect the creed, souls and property of this country.”

Of course, it’s not just women - they execute men (like Mustafa Ibrahim) for sorcery - and kids too (Dhahian Rakan al-Sibai'i).

And you don’t need to get pinched for a capital offense, the Saudi Arabian criminal justice system is easy to manipulate so you can be beheaded for a crime that does not warrant execution even under the country’s otherwise expansive death penalty laws (there’s no formally written criminal code, law is made by the opinions of judges and clergy and those rulings are sealed and secret, behind closed doors)

Defendants don’t have the right to a lawyer, often are not clued in that they even have legal proceedings against them, and can be convicted on confessions from torture (like pulling out your fingernails and sticking burning reeds in your ass torture).
So the international community doesn’t think they’re really, y’know, fair trials.

(Oh, but Smedley, that’s just like in the U.S.!)
Uh huh.
I don’t particularly care whether we it’s absolutely painless when we kill people or it’s excruciating, I oppose the death penalty on principle.

Obviously I’d prefer something painless if it can’t be stopped, and really, I don’t know how painful lethal injection is (and again, I don’t much care, I want it all stopped a/o yesterday), but as there is some recognition of that, so too there must be some recognition of why people are executed and the fairness of their trials.

Until we start crushing people’s feet until they confess to sorcery I’m going to cut our system a break in contrasting what’s humane.
(Of course, that doesn’t prevent me from applauding the moratorium going on in Illinois, nor recognition, and criticism, of the systemic flaws within the U.S., but I mean, c’mon, the laws over there aren’t even written down.)

I oppose torture, I think our current foreign policy is a joke and I oppose the Iraq war, but people wonder why the hell I’m so hawkish sometimes. Crap like this right here - would be it.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:31 PM on March 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


So we’d, what, chemically shrivel thieves’ hands?

No, we throw them in prison to be gang-raped. (LOL)

Or was that for growing your own weed? I forget...
posted by LordSludge at 3:11 PM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Actually, I agree with Smed, and *by comparison*, the US justice system is pretty great. But it still ain't great at all. I just wish we could get our own shit straight.
posted by LordSludge at 3:16 PM on March 14, 2008


Between the two I'd prefer the US justice system, but the Saudi execution method, if I got to mix and match. Lethal injection is appalling.

paulsc! glad to see you!
posted by small_ruminant at 3:55 PM on March 14, 2008


Some of y’all are actually positing that what they’re doing there is more humane than what happens here?

Uh, no, we're not. We all know the legal system in North America , flawed as it is, is far better than the one in Saudi Arabia, and most of us probably just thought there was no need to take a stand on something so obvious. And I, at least, am opposed to the death penalty on principle — and I wouldn't be surprised if most or all of the other contributors to this thread were as well, but that also just doesn't happen to be the specific point being discussed. We're specifically comparing methods of execution and executioner's attitudes towards their work.

I find the anti-U.S. sentiment in this thread disturbing.

It's anti-American to point out that the States has executioners as well as Saudi Arabia? It's anti-American to point out that American society has selected a method of killing people that may look like the person is going to sleep but is actually agonizing? I think you don't understand what an "anti-U.S. sentiment" is.

Thanks for deigning to try to educate and enlighten us, but we're probably all just about as up to speed on these matters as you.
posted by orange swan at 6:20 PM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Holy Hannah Arendt.

I can't for the life of me understand what makes execution seem okay.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:56 PM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


First, Smedley, capital punishment is not practiced by any of the modern nations. Note that only the red ones are big on executions — and they are all developing nations.

So in getting pissy about the USA-bashing, you're getting pissy over Bristol Type 6 versus Bristol Type 4. Keep that in mind. It is not civilized to use capital punishment.

Secondly, not only is the USA doing poorly, it's getting worse:
The current court’s stance on whether someone can be executed for a crime short of murder could be tested by recent laws in several states, including Florida, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma and South Carolina, authorizing the execution of repeat child rapists and molesters. No one yet has been executed under those laws, but one Louisiana man — Patrick O. Kennedy — was sentenced to die in 2003 for raping an 8-yearold girl. His case is being appealed in Louisiana courts.

Legislators in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and even Minnesota, which doesn't have the death penalty, have said they will push this year for similar laws.
Finally, lethal injection — which is to say poisoning — as used in the USA is torturous and the electric chair is no better. By comparison, competent decapitation is the best way to die.

So ride that high horse, but do so knowing your country's laws place it among the worst nations on this planet, its methods are thoroughly inhumane, and that you have a 1-in-100 imprisonment rate, barking insane drug laws, rampant racism in your judicial system, and a habitual extension of law and erosion of rights. Gee-up, Trigger!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:33 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


And wtf is with calling out America's flaws and mistakes in any way anti-American? It's that kind of retarded thinking that has made it possible for your current Administration to fuck the Constitution and electoral process over a barrel.

Constructive Criticism IMPROVES America!

goddamn but I could get angry about this

I won't go so far as to claim all posts in this thread are constructively critical, but in this medium, so far it's been about as close as it's gonna get. Awareness and disapproval are a step in the right direction.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:37 PM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


By comparison, competent decapitation is the best way to die.

Some macabre historical reports from post-revolutionary France cited movements of the eyes and mouth for 15 to 30 seconds after the blade struck, although these may have been post-mortem twitches and reflexes.

If you end up losing your head, but aren't lucky enough to fall under the guillotine, or even a very sharp, well-wielded blade, the time of conscious awareness of pain may be much longer. It took the axeman three attempts to sever the head of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. He had to finish the job with a knife.


Did you link that hoping no one would read it, or what?
posted by Krrrlson at 8:59 PM on March 14, 2008


Does that apply for the first part as well? Living the last seconds of your life as a conscious head?

You know, a competent stoning is a pretty humane way to die, if they knock you out properly with the first stone. How about decapitation by hanging? That should be pretty humane in your book. Spike through the head? Why, as long as it's competent enough to disable the pain sensors in the brain, right?

Never mind the fact that the concept of a more or less humane execution is just about as sensible as humane murder or humane rape. If you are against it, the humaneness of a particular method is meaningless, and if you believe it's a legitimate method of punishment, the pain inflicted is part of that punishment. Of course, you don't care about that, since you are only here to seize the opportunity to take another potshot at the Americans and help legitimize someone else's medieval brutality. Nincompoop indeed.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:16 PM on March 14, 2008


What orange swan said. I don't think there is anyone here who doesn't find Saudia Arabia's justice system to be appalling. We all agree: it's very, very bad. I thought that, given that S.A. has a justice system which is far worse than that of the U.S. (which is also not all hugs and puppies) it was interesting that some small part of it might possibly be less cruel. Or maybe it's not--I've never been executed by any means, I don't really know.
Smedleyman, you quoted me about the mercy of the method of execution, but then took me to task about the fact that they chop off extremities. I didn't say what I thought about it, but you could probably have given me the benefit of the doubt and assumed I believe it to be barbaric (I do.) In my original statement, I emphasized that I was talking only about the method of execution. Not trials, or torture, or lesser punishments, or which acts are considered criminal, or the public spectacle. I really did just mean "I wonder if this hurts less than lethal injection?" I didn't mean "I hate America."
posted by agentofselection at 3:06 AM on March 15, 2008


If you are against it, the humaneness of a particular method is meaningless, and if you believe it's a legitimate method of punishment, the pain inflicted is part of that punishment.

Not true. There is such a thing as degrees of cruelty and of barbarism. I'm thinking about methods of execution from the perspective of someone who is condemned to die — which way would I prefer to die, if I were facing an inescapable death? And I think there are probably varying views among those who support the death penalty. My father, for instance, thinks execution is no crueller than locking someone in a cage for the rest of his life, especially when you consider factors like the prolonged use of solitary confinement. And I doubt all the people who do support the death penalty would also support the idea of a agonzingly painful means of execution. In fact, I doubt it's widely realized in the U.S. that lethal injection as currently practised is painful. Why has the U.S. penal system chosen such a method when they could just as easily have chosen a painless one? If the U.S. isn't willing to get rid of capital punishment, why can't they at least switch to a painless type of lethal injection? I'd prefer to see them get rid executions and reform the entire penal system, but when you can't get the whole nine yards of progress you hope for at least one small step in the right direction.

Of course, you don't care about that, since you are only here to seize the opportunity to take another potshot at the Americans and help legitimize someone else's medieval brutality.

In argument and problem-solving it is so important to make sure we understand our opponents' point of view, to credit them with nuance, and to be willing to concede and examine the flaws not only of others but of those that lie close to us and even within ourselves.

So please try to understand that no one is excusing what the Saudis do or claiming the American judicial and penal system in its entirety is as brutal. No one is taking "potshots" at the Americans. I've scanned through this thread yet again and I cannot find any statement about the U.S. that doesn't qualify as a valid criticism. As several of us have said, we are merely comparing methods of execution — and again, if people are going to be executed, the degree of suffering they undergo is far from "meaningless".
posted by orange swan at 6:34 AM on March 15, 2008


In the recent Horizon on methods of execution they reckoned the most humane method of execution would by hypoxia in a hyperbaric chamber by... you actually die elated.

What was interesting is that this was dismissed in the program by several pro-death penalty people as to easy on the person being executed.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:39 AM on March 15, 2008


“I just wish we could get our own shit straight.”

Yeah, absolutely. It is appaling that rape in U.S. prisons is given that wink and nod tacit approval. That makes me want to shove some of the folks doing the sentencing into their own holes. 5 years should just be 5 years - or whatever - without this added crap. Prison should be the one place we can keep absolute order. Apparently we choose not to.

“I think you don't understand what an "anti-U.S. sentiment" is.”
Just addressing the zeitgeist more than attempting to refute any particular point. One can approach a problem from a certain perspective and emphasize certain elements, perhaps that was done here because the point is so obvious. But the shift in emphasis (to the U.S.) irritated me, only because we miss exploration of just how damned bad it is to say “Yeah, it’s bad...but over here...” etc.

As much as focusing on me being on a high horse or reading it as a defense of the U.S. misses my point. Happy to see a further exploration of the excesses here, but I prefer the depth rather than the surface ( five fresh fish for example, nice depth there, although I’d look at the word ‘competant’, also - I think the fact it’s so public in Saudi is one of the things that pisses me off).

“Constructive Criticism IMPROVES America!”

Unquestionably.

“but then took me to task about the fact that they chop off extremities.”

My apologies if it looked that way. Again, I did try to step back a bit from pointing to a specific thing. I was attempting to take the general focus of the perspective on execution as opposed to the ancillary fun things they do there like cutting off hands. Which pisses me the hell off.
Sometimes passion ruins clarity. So, sorry for that. Didn’t mean to single you, or anyone, out. Just grabbing hold of the general perspective.

Although I disagree (mildly) that decapitation is more humane. I’m not sure. And of course, the method by which it’s practiced in Saudi, plus the fake ass trials, etc. - compounds that, but I get what you were addressing. I suspect we’re attempting (in the U.S.) to find a more humane way to execute people, to my mind (and to many of y’all) that just shoehorns execution as a valid punishment, so in some respects it’s worse.
As is, to my mind, contrasting just the methodology of the execution without consideration of the broader context - that is - legal rights, how stuff is handled, etc.

I take exception with the idea that decapitation is or could be more humane than lethal injection for precisely those reasons - what would decapitation do to our legal system?
What would introducing that gore factor do? What sort of statement does that make?
I think these are points that have been glossed over and not considered in the assumption that decapitation would somehow seamlessly replace lethal injection without a ripple effect throughout the system.

My apologies to all for not making that more clear. Not accusing anyone of ‘America bashing’ in particular, but I do urge you to examine where your preconceptions lay when you think about these kinds of issues.

And condemn me for a fool, but I’m doing you the same service you claim to be (and indeed are) doing for the U.S.
It’s constructive criticism of where the perspective was leading.
But I do take the point that my position wasn’t as clear as it could have been. I blame my passion for that. I know what happens there and it gets my blood up. Not an excuse, I should have put the breadth of my point into sharper contrast.
So again, sorry for that. The thought of having decapitations here, what that says about government power, the manner in which it gets done, the resultant media attention - I dig you guys were more into just a surface speculation, but this is something that really gets my goat.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:52 AM on March 15, 2008


That is to say, I take it seriously, such that perhaps I’m a bit too sensitive when reading a surface sort of take on it. Not that I don’t appreciate the humor. But I feel (and think) it’s an important issue and needs a bit more depth to it. I’m just saying I’m carrying some freight on this.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:54 AM on March 15, 2008


I take exception with the idea that decapitation is or could be more humane than lethal injection for precisely those reasons - what would decapitation do to our legal system?
What would introducing that gore factor do? What sort of statement does that make?


Proper decapitation is inarguably more humane for the victim. Lethal injection as practiced in the USA is painful torture. So much so that it's currently being challenged in the courts, just as electrocution was previously.

I believe someone upthread said LI is used because it lets people think they're "putting him to sleep" — such a nice way to die, no? Decapitation, with its gore, would hopefully make jurors think twice about the result, reducing the number of people sent to death.

With any luck, that'd eventually lead to the elimination of the death penalty.

I do have to agree with the sentiment that life in prison might be less desired by the prisoner than death itself. I would be okay with letting prisoners choose between the two. I don't have a problem with people deciding for themselves to slip the mortal coil.

aside: a suprising possible fact I stumbled across in digging up links: apparently overdosing on heroin is surprisingly difficult for the addicted. It's usually confounding factors, ie. mixing drugs or impure heroin, that kills 'em. Huh. Still, I should think heroin for a non-addict is a pretty good way to go. Dreaaaaaaming away.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:55 AM on March 15, 2008


“Thanks for deigning to try to educate and enlighten us, but we're probably all just about as up to speed on these matters as you.”

If it appears that I speak with authority (although I am used to speaking from authority, occupational hazard when you have people under you who will kill at your word) it is because I speak with a conviction that stems from experience, not hubris or claim of exclusive moral authority or knowlege. Perhaps y’all are up to speed. I’m not slighting anyone’s knowlege. But I’ve actually been to some of the places I talk about which I think gives me a breadth and depth of perspective.
Folks talk about computers, I tend to sit and listen even though I work with computers. They write code, I don’t, odds are they know a thing or two at a depth I’m not familiar with whether we have the same access to information on the general topic or not.
So I’m just offering my two cents, same as anyone else. My input doesn’t invalidate yours (tho I can see how folks can make that presumption given my tone, sorry about that) I’m just introducing something that seems to have been overlooked.

“Decapitation, with its gore, would hopefully make jurors think twice about the result, reducing the number of people sent to death.
With any luck, that'd eventually lead to the elimination of the death penalty.”

I agree. But again - look at your presumption. You’re arguing from an ideal. Are you honestly going to push for decapitation as a method of execution in the U.S.?
And if it is pushed, in earnest, from what quarters do you think that sentiment would come?
There are people, and more disturbingly economic/systemic forces, pushing for televised executions.
Decapitation is useful - or rather is presumed useful - as a method of execution precisely because it is so gory. Otherwise the Saudis wouldn’t do it so publicly.
Consider the arguments underlying capital punishment as a deterrent.
Is it not obvious then that decapitation is seen as a deterrent, by the very fact of the gore and spectacle and methodical disregard for the remains (antithetical to most religious practice and sentiment if not strictly speaking a purely intellectual consideration)?

My objection to execution is objection to the state having that power. To me, all other considerations are lesser - albeit still well worth consideration and valid. Either the state can or can’t execute it’s citizens. I’d rather not have the state have that power, since it is established (for most all intents) to safeguard individual rights, among them life and liberty which death removes both (prison removes only liberty, but this can be reversed, liberty can be restored, life can’t).
Ergo, execution is an expression of state power.
So the question of method is moot compared to manner and other considerations such as the trial and so forth.

I believe that the method of execution stems from the manner in which the state regards it’s citizens.
Decapitation, to me, says “This is what happens to people that defy us.”
Lethal injection sort of creeps in on cat feet and says “Sorry, we have to do this.”
I dislike both - and I agree with your premise. But I have to point out that the method of execution carries with it attendant statements of power.
It is, in and of itself, a communication.
And I like less what decapitation says (and again - the inevitable attendant mindset carried with it) and the ripple effects it has than I do lethal injection.

Ideally, yes, make execution more gruesome and people will find it more repugnant. But that’s exactly why hanging, shooting, all that has been rescinded. Not only because the pro-death folks cede that ground to compassion (or the appearance thereof) but because the anti-death folks keep pushing from a systemic and principle basis.

It’s the same form of argument against torture. You have people saying “torture works” or “waterboarding isn’t torture” and so forth.
I yield no ground there either. I will not allow for one form of torture being “aggressive interrogation” while another form is “torture.”
There are no degrees. Not because I’m a fanatic. Not because I’m myopic. Not because I’m an uber-patriot. But because there are very serious and very real ancillary effects - ripples - generated by the statement made when a given technique is used.
How one says something is often as important as what one says, this is most absolutely true in the execution of state power.

To my mind Saudi Arabia is a near perfect example of this.
In the U.S. we wouldn’t suddenly switch to decapitation and ‘ta-da’ there’s no effect on other areas of the system.
Saudi Arabia doesn’t take you out to the square, throw you in a paupers grave, make it a real spectacle, because they want to use decapitation. I’m saying decapitation comes first.

It’s not that the Saudi system and method of execution makes the U.S. system look good by contrast, it’s that but for those legal checks and rights’ protection we have in place - there goes the U.S.
(And, simply, we do have them)

This story should make folks think about the value of those protections and why it’s important to have them, augment them, and as you say, criticise where it fails - not focus solely on the method itself.

I dunno if that’s clear. The point being - these things are related. I think it’s jingoistic to boil it down to just the execution method and comparative criticisms.

You have to consider the context from which the method stems.
Theirs is theocratic and oppressive. Ours, less so.

I think the criticism of our own system in contrast, would be more constructive if it took into account what we value in our own system that makes it disimilar to the Saudi system and seek to augment and expand that.
As it is there is there is some assertion of equivalency between execution (or executioners) there and here.

I disagree and think this is a less useful criticism of the U.S. system.
The paths by which the death penalty is imposed are very different.
I’m arguing that’s very related to the method of execution.
By implication, our system of trials, etc, while not perfect, is vastly superior.
What’s required, as what was recognized in Illinois, is a halt of the imposition of the death penalty in recognition of the disparity in our own system.
That this can be, and has been, done should be cause for recognition and impetus to strengthen that.

Guys getting in the PMITA penitentary, while a valid observation, I don’t see as related.

Again, I dunno if it’s clear. I’m not criticising a point (and our points aren’t mutually exclusive anyway), I’m arguing a perspective, I’m saying if someone is really anti-death penalty then recognize those are some evil fucking bastards over there - and why and how that plays out and understand the contrast so you can better appreciate - and so better defend and uphold and indeed expand - the protections we enjoy over here

Expansion of those protections are, I believe, a better path to defeating the death penalty than consideration of the method. Because again (to belabor the point) like torture, once you cede a little, or allow for this “maybe it works” ambiguity, which is bullshit anyway, you’re on that path that allows for “well, if we’re a little nicer about it” that leads to lethal injection.

They cut people’s heads off and point to the Koran. We inject and point to (antithetically) “cruel and unusual punishment.” And they’re both codifications of barbarism. Same as waterboarding being “necessary” or useful in getting information or not being torture - all that other horse manure. (not that anyone here is putting that proposition forth - just illustrating the topic) The processes however are very different and I think the method of execution reflects that. So I don’t find a similarity. I can say “those people are bastards” and assert we need foreign policy change without feeling the need to address our own executions.
I think that’s an important distinction.
And of course, it doesn’t mean the death penalty or the prison system or any of the other flaws don’t need to be addressed. It simply means I don’t accept the (possible) argument from (potentially the Saudi position) that “you execute people too.”
Well, we do, but not like that. And that means something. And I feel that’s been overlooked.

And again - just showing you the turf, not trying to specifically refute anyone here.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:17 AM on March 15, 2008


“Proper decapitation is inarguably more humane for the victim. Lethal injection as practiced in the USA is painful torture.”

And to less obliquely address this specific point - I’m not arguing method of execution as humane or not, or rather painful vs. less painful, I’m arguing that there are attendant social costs, impacts on the legal system, how power is expressed, what statement the type of execution makes, etc. - that impact how humane overall, the execution is. Less painful or not I’m not addressing. I’ll cede that perhaps it is, I’ve presented some evidence otherwise (and read your evidence) and find myself unable to make a solid judgement. And, perhaps that's, because I’m unwilling to - given my predication that certain methods have certain social and systemic ramifications.(If I’m explaining that clearly).
posted by Smedleyman at 11:28 AM on March 15, 2008


I think that, because Americans expect their government to be The Man, and because our government is determined to always to try and look as if it's professional, even if we switched to decapitation, it would not be a spectacle. Look at how we do lethal injection--the executioner doesn't even watch the condemned, he just squeezes the syringe (going into an IV, not directly into the arm) from behind a curtain. If the U.S. decided to decapitate a person, we would build a $2million 5-bladed, 220v rube-goldbergesque contractile shearing engine. The machine would be concealed within an institutional green metal shroud, and the condemned would be laid on a stretcher, strapped down, and then slid into an MRI-style tube. They'd lock the door, throw a switch, then leave it to the county M.E. to go see whether things had gone according to plan. The machine would probably miss more often than a competent headsman, or even jam up, but it would look far more sedate. Americans could think "It's never easy when you have to kill a man, but at least we do it nice and cleanly" and continue feeling smug and superior.
Honestly, I think there might be some social benefit to killing people in a way that looks like killing them, just so that we are faced with the fact of what we are doing. Shoot them in the cranium with a high-powered rifle. Rifle bullets move faster than neural impulses. Don't build an enclosed, automated, head-shooting machine, just get 10 competent riflemen and do it. Let everyone see that there was a person, and then we shot him, and now he's dead. We didn't put him in the special box that makes bad people go away so we don't have to think about them, we shot him dead.
Then again, most of America seems to be pretty okay with the notion of removing all future consciousness and volition from a sentient being, so maybe this still wouldn't have the effect that I hope it would.
posted by agentofselection at 2:19 PM on March 15, 2008


How about a DoD foot-wide missle-destroying laser to the head? ZAP-POW! Instant obliteration!

I’m arguing that there are attendant social costs, impacts on the legal system, how power is expressed, what statement the type of execution makes, etc.

Isn't that where we'd be talking which countries execute, not how? About how executions are now being proposed for crimes other than murder? Talking about how often the justice system screws the pooch by jailing innocent people? And how execution costs several times more than life incarceration?

All facts laid out on the table, I find it hard to see how the US has justified keeping execution on the lawbooks. It makes no sense at all.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:35 PM on March 15, 2008


FFF - you arguing with me or what? I'm not arguing pro-death penalty. I'm saying how an execution - the method by which it is carried out - is part and parcel with the system that supports it. Decapitation doesn't come alone, it's a package deal with the legal excesses we see in, for example, the Saudi system. "How" is indicative of a mindset that dictates how often a given justice system screws the innocent, etc. etc.

And again - we're talking about chopping someone's head off for being gay but hey, the U.S. is screwed up because it jails the innocent and executions cost more than a life sentence?
I'm seeing apples/oranges here. How's the U.S. even in the same ballpark except in terms of foreign policy?
Next time the U.S. blowtorches some homosexual's testicles until he confesses so they can execute him, I'll jump all over it. As it is, I don't think there's room for comparison (again, excepting that the criticism is valid, just, to my mind, in a different category because of how it's derived).
posted by Smedleyman at 6:19 PM on March 15, 2008


(Ach! I keep forgeting inflection - I'm not saying I can't believe you're arguing with me, I'm asking if you're addressing my point, sorry).
posted by Smedleyman at 6:25 PM on March 15, 2008


(And forgive me if I'm a bit pointed, buried a buddy of mine today)
posted by Smedleyman at 6:46 PM on March 15, 2008


If I wanted to kill someone quickly and humanly I would shoot them through the base of the skull with a .45 caliber pistol loaded with hollow point bullets from a distance of two or three feet and I wouldn't let them know it was coming. Oh shit, what's that? Bang.

I can't imagine a scenario where I'd want to kill someone humanly though (I guess as an outside possibility some insane monster who tried to kill every person who came near them no matter what steps you took to prevent that). I mean otherwise we're talking self-defense and then I'm going to beat you to death with a shovel or whatever, I mean, it's self-defense and if it's for revenge I'm going to bleed you out with tiny cuts while I piss in your face and burn you with a cigar. The fact is the death penalty is insane, cruel and it doesn't deter anyone (is that not obvious?). Clearly there are people that need killing, but the state can't be in that business and be considered rational and fair (when has that ever been a condition of government?).

Saudi Arabia seems like a real bummer all around, we're not much better in America, but the beer is cold and the BLTs are delicious and at least we haven't killed a witch in a while. I wouldn't mind moving to Sweden but I do like a nice hot day and my daughter would miss her friends.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:14 PM on March 15, 2008


Sorry for your trouble, Smedleyman.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:15 PM on March 15, 2008


Decapitation doesn't come alone, it's a package deal with the legal excesses we see in, for example, the Saudi system.

I do not see how you figure that follows. Excesses lead to beheadings? Beheadings lead to excesses? It's execution: uncivilized, period. But in choosing to be uncivilized, choose to do it in the least painful way possible.

Indeed, I'm not even sure how the Saudi justice system enters into the picture, except in its use of an executioner instead of a guillotine. The latter would be more humane, even though used by an inhumane legal system.

I think we've been having different conversations. I agree the Saudi justice system is batshitinsane. I simply don't see how that has a bearing on whether the US would, if it is going to be an uncivilized nation, be better off to select the least painful method of execution.

If you want to talk about the kind of society that chooses to execute people, despite the inevitable mistakes and -isms inherent in the system, then the form of execution need not really matter except as a measure of inhumanity.

If the conversation is to be about the choices a legal system might make, then the form of execution matters as a measure of... ? And maybe that's where I haven't been following you. Are you saying choosing painful lethal injection versus swift decapitation illustrates the difference between the shoddy US justice system versus the evil-as-fuck Saudi system?

Also, sorry about your buddy. You haven't come across as aggro or bsi; I think we've been having different conversations.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:57 PM on March 15, 2008


"I think we've been having different conversations. I agree the Saudi justice system is batshitinsane. I simply don't see how that has a bearing on whether the US would, if it is going to be an uncivilized nation, be better off to select the least painful method of execution."

Yep. Different conversations. I fully agree with that point.

"Are you saying choosing painful lethal injection versus swift decapitation illustrates the difference between the shoddy US justice system versus the evil-as-fuck Saudi system?"

In a sense, yeah. But more that there's an evil-as-fuck path that comes with choosing decapitation as a society, much as there is a shoddy path that comes with choosing lethal injection as a society.

In part precisely because the choice is contested on a variety of fronts and from many positions in the U.S.
You kind of have to turn it around and look at how the respective choices came into being.
At some point in our history enough people contested the theocrats, powerful, etc. etc. and said they weren't going to put up with people being killed for witchcraft anymore.

That choice wasn't - and isn't - static. Saudi Arabia used to be far more advanced and socially complex than they are today.
So there are a number of factors there that all play into how a given position comes to be.

At some point I expect we'll eliminate the death penalty in the U.S., but again, such a thing isn't done, then stands (for all intents) forever like the pyramids. It must be maintained. There's a dynamic there.

I suspect my statement of "anti-U.S. sentiment" was taken more to heart (and perhaps more personally) than I meant it. I can't really think of the word I need though. Zeitgeist maybe? Just seems to be a kind of pessimistic perspective. And that seems to slight that dynamic that I'm speaking of. I don't know if that's at all clear. Tough to clarify when I'm trying to describe a sort of vibe. But I stick by that point. There are significant differences between the Saudi executions and executions in the U.S. that go beyond the obvious equivalancy of the state taking someone's life. And beyond the question of how painless.
But again, I'm not dismissing those points as not relevent, but pointing out that the depth behind them in the system and society was being overlooked.

(and I hesitate to mention the obvious or belabor the point but I'm also not saying when we execute someone it's right - rather, were I to be executed I would rather have it as a result of a fair trial (or more fair) in a society where pains are taken to make it painless (without getting into the dispute of which specific method is painless - I'm talking social motivation) than where it's this gory spectacle resulting from an arbitrary decision in a society that's crushed into submission - and one of those things supporting that is my own execution. Should go without saying I'd rather not have it happen at all.)

I think if we lose focus on what is valuable in our rush to condemn what is flawed we can allow it to be destroyed in the pursuit of change or whatever our goal is.
Some folks look at Saudi and say well, we kill people, plus we have prison rape, etc. I look at it as which fire is bigger?
And I'd hope - and indeed, it's been my experience - that once a country, a social unit, begins to address human rights issues from that basis that changes that group, country, etc. internally. It spurs a race to the top. Doesn't last forever of course, but again, it's a dynamic that needs to be maintained. Not to the exclusion of criticism of course, but it does require recognition and preservation of what is valuable.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:19 PM on March 16, 2008


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