[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Feb 5 07:02:12 UTC 2007
Why Killing Saddam Backfired on Bush----Dying Well
Dying well used to be a popular topic for discussion and a trope for art.
Paintings of just men dying peacefully in bed and distraught debauched
sinners mad at their final moment were exempla for everyone. Live well,
die well, was the message. As you sow, so shall you reap. We'll read in
your end image your whole story. Accordingly, Saddam Hussein's death
disappointed many. He seemed composed and dignified, contemptuous of his
angry taunting executioners. Not a satisfying picture for those who wanted
to make him thoroughly monstrous, nor quite comforting either to those who
think vengeance effects justice.
The US had tried to make him look bad when he was captured, showing gloved
captors probing his wild hair and mouth. For those who understood the
biblical myths undergirding the US invasion, this echoed the bestialized
Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, humbled by the almighty Hebrew god, a presage of
how Babylon falls to Jerusalem in Revelation. But Saddam Hussein, once the
grinning dealmaker with Donald Rumsfeld, managed his own image. The
gun-brandisher, pseudo-Saladin gave way to the aggrieved lawyer and
occasional preacher. At his end he reproached the taunting executioners
that they failed to act like men. He looked better than the executers of
'justice,' who seemed brutal and bloodthirsty. Saddam rehabilitated his
image many said bitterly. Which goes to show a certain volatility of human
opinion. A few days later tapes of Saddam speaking of his calculated
chemical poisoning surfaced, no doubt to shift the wind of opinion by
reasserting the monster. Which goes to show not only what Krishna
remarked-that no man is entirely good and no man is entirely evil-but that
we're buffeted by sham morality plays and images night to morn.
On 15 January 2007, Saddam's co-defendants were also hanged. The reports
said they were in orange jumpsuits and black hoods and they were
trembling. The US had insisted their executions be proper, unlike
Saddam's. Executioners and witnesses had to sign statements promising good
behavior. But Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti got
decapitated by the hanging. The image was macabre and was immediately
guarded by the government which says it may not be publically shown.
NYTimes reporter John Burns, with a select group, viewed the videotape and
attested it showed the condemned fall and have his head snap off. Burns
theorized that the eight-foot drop calculation was too long, causing the
mishap. Some claimed the decapitation was an act of God, others saw the
viciousness or ineptness of the government. Whatever the case, al-Tikriti
didn't die well image-wise and it reflected badly on the executioners.
Burns also noted that both condemned were "distinctly frightened." He
commented that Saddam's admired fearlessness at his death was no doubt
related to his lack of conscience. Even top reporters interpret deaths and
press for telling stories. Coverage paid little attention to the death
prayers uttered by the condemned. If you consent to killing the wicked you
have to keep asserting their wickedness over your own.
St. Paul remarked that it was hard to preach Christ crucified because a
hero who dies a criminal death is not attractive. He looks like a criminal
even though he may be innocent and the executioners guilty. And he looks
defeated and weak. He doesn't struggle or fight death, doesn't die like a
warrior. Early Byzantine Christians pictured Christ on the cross only in
vestments of glory-moving to the real end of the story which was Christ's
justifying resurrection, the triumph of his life over death. Paul argued
that this was the story to preach-not the death by crucifixion. That was,
he said. to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles a scandal.
Christ's death and Socrates' are both frequently cited as examples of
injustice. History has regarded them as moral heros and their executions
as wrongful. Both appealed to an afterlife for vindication. Both are seen
as dying well. Christ surrenders to man's brutality and reveals and
forgives it. Socrates accepts death's inevitability and drinks the poison
A lot depends on what you think death means. It's the last act you play in
your earthly drama. Socrates argued that the conventional idea of 'swan
song' was wrong. People think the swan intensely mourns his last breath,
singing as it parts from sweet life, he said. But on the contrary, he
continued, the swan is Apollo's bird and sings with joy at the prospect of
immortality. The death song is beautiful, but the meaning is arguable in
the case of the swan.
Commentators on the Iraqi condemned are not so theoretical. Most prefer
the condemned be execrable in their ends or they mourn the executioners'
clumsiness. Some condemn the death penalty itself, seeing in its rationale
the same commitment to violence which defined the wicked.
It is not just paradoxical that these images of dying look bad. They could
look good only abstractly-spun out of the images into fantasies of justice
and evil. Hiding the human face is a revealing technique in torture and in
execution. Saddam was smart to refuse the hood. He faced his executioners
and death. President Bush who sought and applauded Saddam's execution as
justice said he didn't watch the whole thing, didn't want to. He did see
the internet video he said but stopped watching before the last moments.
Was he signaling sensitivity to the death moment, the ugliness of bulging
eyes and twisted neck, or the specific brutality of real hanging? Or was
it faintheartedness, or not wanting to see Saddam look human in death. The
brutal dictator whose pistol Bush displays as a war trophy in the Oval
Office, whose callous cruelties he condemned, who bluffed him into war,
looked good in his end and the President famously doesn't like
contradictions of his evaluations.
Saddam's dying well strikes to the deeper issue of acts and ends and
agency. The President who relentlessly became 'a war president' embraced
killing and destruction as a solution to 'evil.' His nemesis, Saddam
Hussein, embraced killing and destruction for political power. What ends
justify what means?
It is hard to make a man you kill look evil. He looks vulnerable. You look
evil. Because you kill. And you don't wipe out 'bad' killing with 'good'
killing, you echo it. Which the President and we choose not to see.
(source: Diane Christian is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at
University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice;
EU lawmakers want worldwide ban on death penalty
Ratcheting up European Union efforts to ban the death penalty worldwide,
EU lawmakers on February 1 called for immediate action to secure
international support for the bid.
A universal moratorium aimed at abolishing the death penalty worldwide
should be established "immediately and unconditionally, Euro MPs said in a
Germany, which currently holds the agenda-setting EU presidency, must act
urgently and submit a resolution for such decree to the United Nations
assembly, MEPs demanded.
"The abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of
human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights," Euro
The EU said the day before that it would continue to oppose capital
punishment "in all cases and under all circumstances because it considers
the death penalty to be a cruel and inhuman punishment."
The 27-member bloc also said the death penalty, which is banned in Europe,
had no deterring effect. In addition, 'any miscarriage or failure of
justice is irreversible, when, in a cruel and inhumane way, the punishment
deprives one of his or her right to life," the German EU presidency said
in a statement.
It also pointed out that the fight against terrorism was no reason or
justification for introducing or restoring the death penalty. "Terrorism
can be combated most effectively by adhering strictly to international law
and respecting human rights," the EU said.
Asked about European plans to submit an anti-death penalty resolution to
the UN assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at a recent visit
to EU headquarters that he was "encouraging the trend to phase out the
death penalty." Past attempts to ban capital punishment at the UN level
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International says that in 2005, at least
2,148 people were executed in 22 countries and at least 5,186 people were
sentenced to death in 53 states worldwide.
Some 94 % of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia
and the United States. China is leading the list with 1,770 executions,
according to Amnesty. Iran executed at least 94 people, Saudi Arabia at
least 86 and the US 60 people.
Italy and its Prime Minister Romano Prodi are leading the fight. MEP
Graham Watson of the UK, the leader of the European Liberals and Democrats
group declared: "The death penalty casts a shadow on us as civilised
Europeans. Now is the time to act to end such inhumane practices. Europe,
thanks to the initiative of the Prodi Government, is waking up and
assuming leadership of this campaign for a universal moratorium on the
"If abolition is the final goal, a moratorium could be the first step in
the process. But it is important that Europe finds the greatest possible
consensus in order to influence the debate in the United Nations."
MEP Marco Pannella of Italy, who has consistently campaigned for an end to
the death penalty, said: "For the General Assembly to avoid a decision on
this issue now - in the current political climate and positive public
opinion behind a moratorium - would constitute a serious set-back for this
historical political goal which is beginning to take shape across the
globe from Rwanda to Kyrgyzstan and to France, which is considering
inserting a clause on abolition in its own Constitution."
The European Parliaments 218-strong Socialist Group joined the calls for
worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Its Vice-President Pasqualina
Napoletano, who represented them at the World Congress Against the Death
Penalty, held in Paris, said: "All governments that currently have the
death penalty on their statute books should immediately call a halt to
executions until the UN general assembly has voted."
MEP Simon Coveney of Ireland said a global moratorium on the death penalty
would be an enormous step forward towards achieving the ultimate aim of
putting an end to the use of the death penalty.
He said, "China continues to execute more people than any other country
where the death penalty is in place. I am regularly critical of the lack
of human rights advancement in the country," and he said some reforms may
be intended to placate the international community before next years
Olympic Games in Beijing.
(source: New Europe News)
Indian hangman keeps alive death penalty debate
As rights activists gather in Paris to campaign against the death penalty,
an 87-year-old hangman sits in a tiny room passionately defending his
profession though he is bitter about all the "false" promises the state
made to him.
More than 600 academics, lawyers, relatives of crime victims, journalists
and rights activists have converged in Paris for the 3rd World Congress
Against the Death Penalty Friday and Saturday. But in Nata Mullick it has
"If criminals are not punished, there would be more such terrible crimes.
Capital punishment creates fear in people's mind and prevents them from
committing crime," Mullick told IANS at his house in a narrow alley of
Tollygunge in south Kolkata.
He recalls the events of August 2004 when rape and murder convict
Dhanonjoy Chatterjee was hanged.
"Should a person like Chatterjee who raped and brutally murdered a
14-year-old girl be kept alive? Should a terrorist like Mohammad Afzal
Guru who was recently sentenced to death for his role in a plot to blow up
the Indian parliament be kept alive? I don't think so," says Mullick.
Though he is not keeping well these days, Mullick is a much-in-demand
stage performer as an artiste of the jatra folk theatre. But it's his
profession as a hangman that is his claim to fame.
The global media spotlight on Mullick as the perfect hangman chosen to
perform the execution of Chatterjee had triggered a debate over capital
"People like Dhanonjoy are not human. They have no right to live," he
says. "Terrorists like Afzal Guru also have no right to live.
"I also think that innocents cannot be hanged any more because capital
punishment is pronounced after a very critical judicial process," he says.
Lying in his bed against a paling pink wall adorned with numerous media
clippings and the pantheon of Hindu gods he worships, Mullick says:
"During hanging I don't suffer from any sense of guilt. I worship god, put
flowers in the gallows. I seek pardon again and again. I also give alms to
people to purify my soul."
Nata Mullick is now a jatra artiste who is virtually more in demand than
Bengali or even Bollywood film stars.
"Everywhere I go people want to see me. So much so that I am more sought
after than Bollywood star Shakti Kapoor or our Tollywood star Tapas Paul.
My plays are full houses always," says Mullick.
He performs in a melodrama titled "Desher Shatru Neta, Baper Shatru Beta"
(Leader is the enemy of the nation, son is the enemy of the father). But
Mullick is extremely bitter with the West Bengal government.
"From the West Bengal jail minister to the inspector general of police
(Prisons), everyone promised a job for my kin but what they offered at the
end is most insulting.
"I never wanted a job but they offered me one only to cheat me later. What
my grandson was offered at the end is a contract job for Rs.2,500 a month,
and that too renewable with a fresh application every year. He has not got
salary for the past several months," Mullick says.
"These jail officials, especially then IG (Prisons) Joydev Chakraborty,
lied to me about a permanent job for my kin. These people make false
promises when they need me for a hanging but never honour their words
But with his jatra career taking off at this age, Mullick is better off
"They offer me a car, pay me well. I am happy that way. But I am not
keeping too well."
Italy is spearheading a campaign to win support for an international
moratorium on the death penalty - the ultimate punishment carried out each
year against thousands of people around the globe. Delegates and
decision-makers in Paris are discussing current strategies and issues
relating to the goal of worldwide abolition of judicial killings.
But if anyone asks Nata Mullick, he will have a different story to tell.
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