when the abyss stares back

You have to question one of the basic axioms of Western life, a foundational myth of the enlightenment that “civilized” society values human life. That a life is precious. Sanctified. Or rather,  an eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. Traditional vengeance centered arguments affirming capital punishment, are empty; leading to an insatiable desire for more that once the faucet of blood-lust is opened, its a runaway train. We can blame philosophers like Kant, in part, for claim that death is a legally fitting,  morally required, penalty for murder.

But where does the justification come from? We do not really understand the nature of the individual. Its not totally clear what exactly a human being is: “until we are clear on what man is, we shall not be clear about much else.” ( Trueblood ) Given the  Skinner’s claim about the individual as  complex machine and/or a superior version of  developed “model” of the lower animals, the connection with execution become dissociated from the killing of humans, a kind of backdoor acceptance within the realm of some twisted version of natural selection.  A. J. Heschel  wrote that the outstanding facts about man involved around  ” a superiority of the possibilities of his being over the actuality of his being…. Man must be understood as a complex of opportunities as well as a bundle of facts.” So, with capital punishment, what are we actually killing? Or, is it just to satisfy some primitive spectacle of human sacrifice?

…Troy Davis, 42, was accused of shooting Mark MacPhail, a white police officer working as a security guard, in 1989. Physical evidence of his involvement was lacking. A number of witnesses who testified against him later recanted. Former president Jimmy Carter was among hundreds of thousands of people who believed that he was innocent. “I did not personally kill your son, father, brother,” Mr. Davis told the MacPhail family…..

---Tom Sachs Chanel Guillotine (Breakfast Nook) 1998 mixed media....Camus:Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated, can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date on which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not to be encountered in private life. Image:http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?lg=en&reference=5052

Like his fellow Frenchman, Camus insisted upon justice — and severe penalties. For the first time in his life, he wondered if the death penalty was a reasonable punishment. Camus attended the trial of a particularly treacherous man and admitted that death seemed almost too good for a traitor. Still, Camus resisted the death penalty and fought his emotions.

In every guilty man, there is some innocence. This makes every absolute condemnation revolting. Read More:http://www.tameri.com/csw/exist/camus.shtml

From the New York Times: … to flash back to 1946, and the conclusion of the trials at Nuremberg, in which 11 high-ranking Nazi officers were ultimately condemned to death by hanging. One of them, Hermann Göring, managed to finish himself in his cell with a cyanide capsule just hours before the execution was to take place, but the others took their trip to the gallows.

Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, was the first to go. From an Oct. 28, 1946 dispatch in Time magazine headlined “Night Without Dawn” (the ellipses are in the original):…

Ben Shahn. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti. 1927. Read More:http://www.executedtoday.com/2010/08/23/1927-nicola-sacco-bartolomeo-vanzetti-celestino-madeiros/

…At 1:11 a.m. he entered the gymnasium, and all officers, official witnesses and correspondents rose to attention. Ribbentrop’s manacles were removed and he mounted the steps (there were 13) to the gallows. With the noose around his neck, he said: “My last wish … is an understanding between East and West. …” All present removed their hats. The executioner tightened the noose. A chaplain standing beside him prayed. The assistant executioner pulled the lever, the trap dropped open with a rumbling noise, and Ribbentrop’s hooded figure disappeared. The rope was suddenly taut, and swung back & forth, creaking audibly….

---– Texas has executed 475 people since 1976, including 235 since Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry took office as governor. There were 321 inmates on death row as of Jan. 1. Twelve people due to be executed have been exonerated since 1973.--- Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/a-week-in-american-capital-punishment/article2178788/ i


…The executioner was U.S. Master Sergeant John C. Woods, 43, of San Antonio, a short, chunky man who in his 15 years as U.S. Army executioner has hanged 347 people. Said he afterwards: “I hanged those ten Nazis … and I am proud of it. … I wasn’t nervous. … A fellow can’t afford to have nerves in this business. … I want to put in a good word for those G.I.s who helped me … they all did swell. … I am trying to get [them] a promotion. … The way I look at this hanging job, somebody has to do it. I got into it kind of by accident, years ago in the States “ Read More:http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/01/17/the-nuremburg-hangings-not-so-smooth-either/

Ten more executions would follow that evening, but for all of Sergeant Woods’ experience (and for all of the collected wisdom the military had at its disposal on proper hanging techniques), the Nuremberg executions were, it seems, a ghoulishly untidy affair.

Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., a professor of law at the University of Georgia Law School, noted that many of the executed Nazis fell from the gallows with insufficient force to snap their necks, resulting in a macabre, suffocating death struggle that in some cases lasted many, many minutes:

The ten hangings, which officially brought the Nuremberg Trial proceedings to a close, continue to exert a morbid appeal. …

---seven of nine key witnesses against him disputed all or parts of their testimony, but state and federal judges repeatedly ruled against him — three times on Wednesday alone. When asked Thursday on NBC's “Today” show if he thought the state had executed an innocent man, civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton said: “I believe that they did, but even beyond my belief, they clearly executed a man who had established much, much reasonable doubt.--- Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/americas/supporters-claim-injustice-as-georgia-executes-troy-davis/article2175375/ image:http://www.executedtoday.com/2011/05/18/1965-eli-cohen-israel-syria-spy/

The executions, in a brightly lighted prison gymnasium where three looming black wooden gallows had been erected, were witnessed by a handful of Allied military officers and eight journalists, one of whom, Kingsbury Smith of International News Service, wrote a famous newspaper article, “The Execution of Nazi War Criminals, 16 October 1946,” based on his eyewitness observations.

Although Smith discreetly omitted mentioning it, the experienced Army hangman, Master Sgt. John C. Woods, botched the executions. A number of the hanged Nazis died, not quickly from a broken neck as intended, but agonizingly from slow strangulation. Ribbentrop and Sauckel each took 14 minutes to choke to death, while Keitel, whose death was the most painful, struggled for 24 minutes at the end of the rope before expiring.

Is this how the right finds a way to justify hanging? :But on second thought, did not God hang His own Son at the hands of wicked men? Jesus hung on the tree and died an agonizing death. Hanging is barbaric. So was the crucifixion. But the gruesome nature of criminal hangings and the Son of God’s crucifixion points to the more gruesome ugliness of our sin. Jesus suffered in every way known to man–including the torture of hanging–to identify with us in our suffering and to become for us a perfect High Priest. I have a lot to learn about life outside the U.S. But the gospel keeps speaking despite my ignorance. Read More:http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2007/11/

Adds just a wee bit of context to President Bush’s increasingly strong chiding of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for the mishandling of the executions of Saddam Hussein and his aides in recent days and weeks. … there’s been a fair amount of science applied to the art of hanging, but it seems an easy thing to go awry. Mr. Bush said yesterday that the fledgling government in Iraq “has still got some maturation to do.”

On the other hand, Mr. Wilkes does add this note on the Nuremberg executions, taken from Robert E. Conot, who wrote the book “Justice at Nuremberg”:

“It was a grim, pitiless scene. But for those who had sat through the horrors and tortures of the trial, who had learned of men dangled from butcher hooks, of women mutilated and children jammed into gas chambers, of mankind subjected to degradation, destruction, and terror, the scene conjured a vision of stark, almost biblical justice.”

---Francisco de Goya. The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid. 1814. Oil on canvas, 266 x 345 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. --- Read More:http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/art/

Albert Camus. Condemnation of capital punishment is both explicit and implicit in his writings. For example, in The Stranger Merseault’s long confinement during his trial and his eventual execution are presented as part of an elaborate, ceremonial ritual involving both public and religious authorities. The grim rationality of this process of legalized murder contrasts markedly with the sudden, irrational, almost accidental nature of his actual crime. Similarly, in the Myth of Sisyphus, the would-be suicide is contrasted with his fatal opposite, the man condemned to death, and we are continually reminded that a sentence of death is our common fate in an absurd universe….

---Beneath the grey veil used to cloak her awful secrets from the public gaze, "the widow" stands 14ft tall and the blade hangs menacingly over a hole designed for a neck. "One can have a certain indifference on the death penalty," read Victor Hugo's famous words nearby, "as long as one has not seen a guillotine with one's own eyes."--- Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/16/guillotine-museum-france-paris

…Camus’ opposition to the death penalty is not specifically philosophical. That is, it is not based on a particular moral theory or principle (such as Cesare Beccaria’s utilitarian objection that capital punishment is wrong because it has not been proven to have a deterrent effect greater than life imprisonment). Camus’ opposition, in contrast, is humanitarian, conscientious, almost visceral. Like Victor Hugo, his great predecessor on this issue, he views the death penalty as an egregious barbarism – an act of blood riot and vengeance covered over with a thin veneer of law and civility to make it acceptable to modern sensibilities. That it is also an act of vengeance aimed primarily at the poor and oppressed, and that it is given religious sanction, makes it even more hideous and indefensible in his view.Read More:http://www.iep.utm.edu/camus/#SSH5c.viii


---RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sent urgent letters to Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, urging them to commute the death sentences of 11 Palestinians currently awaiting execution. The death-row inmates, including one who was a juvenile at the time of his conviction, were sentenced this year by Palestinian military and state security courts. Two of the inmates received trials that lasted just one day. ...I am by virtue of having been born to Jewish parents entitled to certain legal privileges in Israel (for example, the government will pay me a significant amount of money to become a citizen, while a Palestinian who was forced from his home here 63 years ago cannot buy citizenship for any price), and certain legal impediments in Palestine (for example, the Palestinian Authority has announced its intent to enforce the death penalty on any Palestinian under its jurisdiction who sells land to me or any other Jew). Israel is likely the only developed country in the world that classifies all its inhabitants as Jews or non-Jews, assigning me (a Jewish non-citizen) the same “nationality” (le’om) as a Jewish citizen, but different from a non-Jewish citizen — which is somewhat ironic considering that Israel was founded as a refuge for people fleeing countries which did precisely that....Read More:http://depththroughdialogue.com/2011/08/17/diary-of-a-jewish-settler-2/ image:http://electronicintifada.net/content/death-penalty-palestinian-territories-alarms-rights-groups/7875

…Thus, the execution of Eichmann expresses what happens to the demand for justice after it obtains power. Horkheimer claimed that in this respect, for the Jews Eichmann became a disaster for the second time  as he was put to death by an executioner representing the government of Israel. According to my interpretation this dramatic phrasing has to be understood thus: at that very moment Judaism has showed that it too had assumed its place in the game in the fields of power in current reality and lost its essential uniqueness; and so it forsook power to demand justice, and has lost its faith in the utopian demand for justice and in non violent protest against this world, which was ruled by violence and by endless aspiration….

---Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes, ca. 1620---

…These issues clearly point to what degree he identified violent power with “the evil,” and how this identification is essential to the utopia of “the good” in the Socratic sense. In my opinion, this is the background against which one should understand his – justified – fear that Israel was turning into a modified Prussian model. Principally, according to Horkheimer’s pessimism, as interpreted here, the demand for justice cannot be obtain power and integrate into earthly justice, unless by its absolute transformation into its contrary. We think that “violence” in Horkheimer’s thought has also to be understood as constituting the “facts” which are declared as an “illusion”, against which the utopian “refusal” is directed; the refusal is the domain of the philosopher’s expertise, who is also called “the neurotic who refuses to recuperate.” He refuses to compromise with reality, to give up his utopianism, on a moral ground and not for a realistic reason, since “only an evil person can live as a realist”. Read More: http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/Utopia4.html

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