Human Rights

Inhumane execution raises death penalty questions once again.

This year is the 50th anniversary since the last executions were carried out in Britain in 1964. Following the gruesome, botched and inhumane execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on Tuesday (29th April 2014) attorney Madeline Cohen claimed it was tantamount to torture. The execution was so badly carried out that it took 43 minutes before Lockett finally died of a massive heart attack. They had to pull the blinds down to stop the witnesses from viewing it.

According to the Guardian newspaper the British Embassy in Washington even felt a need to comment, reiterating the British government’s opposition to capital punishment, which was finally abolished in Britain in 1969 as follows:

“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Its use undermines human dignity, there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value, and any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable. We continue to call on all countries around the world that retain the death penalty to cease its use.”

US_executions Inhumane execution raises death penalty questions once again.
English: Total number of executions carried out in the USA since 1960 Source of data: Death Penalty Information Center – Executions in the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The USA is the only major Country in the Western world that allows state execution and is one of 58 of the 196 (+-) countries in the world who do.

How can we teach our children that killing is wrong when governments continually engage in acts of war, torture and inhumane execution? They will learn to distrust us and the cycle will continue. Prisons will become even more overcrowded and death row will stretch right around the world. When will we learn that by executing the perpetrators of heinous crimes we are destroying the very source of vital information needed to uncover the reasons why individuals are driven to commit these crimes. Humane or inhumane execution compounds the problem, solves and achieves nothing.

Most countries abolished the death penalty years ago for various reasons. One of the reasons was the fact that there have been so many miscarriages of justice leading to wrongful convictions and inhumane execution. I have no doubt there are still many more that will be uncovered in time.

Michael Mansfield, the eminent QC, believes that the ultimate sanction “can’t be applied in a flawed system of justice”. Mansfield represented both the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, all of whom were wrongly imprisoned for years and would almost certainly have been executed had Britain retained capital punishment. Thankfully their convictions were overturned and they were eventually released.

You can always be sure that mistakes will continue to be made, as has been proved time and time again. Is it, therefore, acceptable to impose the death penalty, which is irreversible, and risk inhumane execution of an innocent person? The likelihood is that, in Britain, the situation will get worse as the Government moves towards reducing ‘legal aid’ funding thereby removing an individual’s constitutional right to a professional legal defence.

One of the biggest problems overlooked in miscarriages of justice is that by the time a conviction is overturned (if it is) so many years have passed that the perpetrator of the crime is either dead or never likely to be caught. All the attention is focussed on the wrongly accused and the victim’s family never sees retribution. Many families of murder victims go through weeks or months of torture and are ecstatic when the defendant is convicted, convinced that justice has been done. Then, years later new evidence is found, the verdict is overturned and the wrongly accused is freed but his or her life is ruined. The family of the victim has also been cheated of justice, the perpetrator of the crime is still at large and the case is unlikely to be re-opened.

Imagine if you are the family of the wrongly convicted and he or she is executed. They can’t be released from death!

Juries are humans and humans are fallible. We won’t protect society from evil acts by wasting taxpayers’ money on show trials, taking another life by execution or unnecessary imprisonment. This will never solve society’s problems and neither will it ever bring understanding and knowledge. Putting resources into psychological and psychiatric research, providing help and support for offenders and victims in the community and learning more about societal behaviour is the only way.

It is a long-term project but the chances of success are good if we are all committed. The long-term benefits would be priceless. Criminals are part of our society not another species from outer space that we have no knowledge of. Let’s try to love and understand ourselves better. Uncontrollable emotions such as vengeance and hatred can never resolve anything and are not acceptable to rational, reasoning people. I don’t suppose for one moment that most people who have killed really knew why they did such a terrible thing but the best way they can atone is to work with professionals so that we may learn more about what went on in their minds.

I think this quote from Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s last and most well-known official executioner, on the death penalty in his 1974 autobiography is very enlightening.

 “It is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree…. I do not now believe that any one of the hundreds of executions I carried out has in any way acted as a deterrent against future murder. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.”

I can find no justifiable reason to take another life by state execution, under the pretence that judicial murder is acceptable because it is lawful.

Mahatma Ghandi  summed it all up very well when he said

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

US_executions Inhumane execution raises death penalty questions once again.

0 thoughts on “Inhumane execution raises death penalty questions once again.

  1. I too was appalled by the Oklahoma execution. If they are going to have a death “penalty” than at least it should be carried out efficiently and with dignity. IT is incredible that it could be botched so badly – and not for the first time.

    1. Yes Cinda. A bad individual case of human rights abuse. It saddens me that there is still so much support for capital punishment in America and not enough for research into why heinous crimes are committed. I’m bewildered as to why anyone could think that executions serve any purpose or solve any problems.

  2. I have worked with the criminally insane, forensic psychiatry and have seen and also interviewed inmates in prison – we have walked similar paths James. I wish you much luck with your piece on S.E Asia.

    Ramble, ramble, ramble away. There always is some form of link association from one thought to another.

  3. Albert Pierrepoint did at least have a conscience towards the end of his role, he at least gave Ruth Ellis a glass of whisky and ensured that she wore protective underwear before plunging her to her death!

    You have raised many exceptional and valid points James, all of which I agree with. I would like to state another one that your article hinted at and it is this – that the state is in my mind guilty of murder and should be held accountable, murder/war should never be ligitimised.

    I too long for the day when violence ceases and peace prevails. Bringing back the death penalty is not the answer or solution. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    1. How interesting. ‘Whiskey and knickers’ would have been a great title for his autobiography.
      I spent a fair amount of time some 25 years ago reading people like Michael Mansfield (and watching him from the public gallery), Lord Longford, others and interviewing lifers myself. I am by no means an authority but there is unfortunately far too much ignorance regarding the causes of violent crimes. This can lead to a ‘lynch mob’ and vengeful attitude which is very damaging to society. It is not so very long ago (100+ years) that the only solution for the mentally ill was thought to be incarceration. Only because we were ignorant of the illnesses and how to deal with them. The same is true of people who commit serious crimes today. We have really not advanced too much in that respect and until we do we will continue to lock up more and more people.
      Regarding governments being held accountable, I agree 100% but I doubt it will happen to major powers, only tin pot dictators in banana republics. I am actually in the process of writing a piece on the atrocities carried out in the name of war by America in SE Asia for 10 years. How has Kissinger managed to avoid prosecution for war crimes? Legalised state protection.
      I’m rambling now. Must go. James

      1. You are right there James, sometimes I have often thought that animals get treated better than humans, but then, that thought would take me onto the subject of Euthanasia.

        I am against Capital punishment James.

          1. A moral and ethical dilemma – yes, agreed James. Very difficult issue to raise – but I for one welcome the discussion 🙂

            Have an enjoyable Bank Holiday.

Your comments are welcome