Why do we do continue to do this?


Yesterday came reports of the ghastly mess involving the execution of a death row inmate in Oklahoma because states are experimenting with a new drug cocktail since the old drugs are no longer allowed to be exported to the US from Europe because of European disapproval of their use for executions.

This latest execution seems to have been even worse than the previous one in Ohio. The execution lasted for 43 minutes with the victim speaking and writhing during that time and had to be halted, with him subsequently dying of a heart attack.

Why do we seem to be so determined to carry out a punishment that has no redeeming value and has been rejected by so many nations? It seems to be doing nothing more than satiating a desire for vengeance on the part of the state and revenge on the part of the loved ones of the victims of the killers. Surely those are not sufficient reasons for state-sanctioned pre-meditated murder?

And yet as this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow from back in 2000 shows, politicians all across the political spectrum who seek the highest office seem to fall over themselves in their eagerness to show their toughness by endorsing this barbaric practice.

Comments

  1. Kevin Kehres says

    I agree that the death penalty is a sign we are not a civilized nation.

    But as to Oklahoma — WTF? Are there no doctors in Oklahoma? No pharmacists? No toxicologists? FFS, no veterinarians–who euthanize plenty of animals every day with one shot of pentobarbitol or sodium thiopental? Is Goodman and Gilman’s out of print in Oklahoma? Have they never watched an episode of Dexter?

    How hard is it to administer a little anesthetic (OK, a BIG WHOPPING DOSE of anesthetic) and a massive dose of potassium chloride? Heck, you get potassium chloride in those toy chemistry sets.

    It’s no wonder they kept the drugs they used secret.

  2. A Masked Avenger says

    In principle I have no problem with murderers losing their lives.

    My objection is the same as Tom Tomorrow’s: the error rate is unacceptably high. I’m not sure if I’d agree that one error in the history of ever is enough to scrap the whole thing, but that’s irrelevant, since the error rate is a whole hell of a lot higher than “one ever.”

    I also have a bigger objection that Tomorrow doesn’t mention: I believe the errors are non-random and systematic. It’s a no-brainer that African American and Hispanic men are disproportionately likely to get the death penalty for the same crimes. There’s also potential for subtle gaming of the legal system. Very unsubtly, there are no capital punishments for almost destroying the economy through various white-collar crimes; capital offenses are more likely to be committed by drug dealers on the streets who are more likely to be poor and minority than are CEOs of crooked financial institutions.

    It’s also too easily conceivable that particular characteristics of crimes can be turned into capital offenses with the explicit purpose of targeting particular minorities, in the same way that opium prohibition was targeted at West-coast Asians, and marijuana prohibition was targeted at Southwestern Mexicans. Notice that laws against powder cocaine (75% of whose users are white) are looser than laws against crack cocaine (only 52% of whose users are white). I don’t have the energy to chase the statistics, but if–purely hypothetically–some particular weapon (such as a “Saturday night special”) were used more often by assailants of color, it would be easy to vilify that particular weapon (cheap! easily concealed! favorite of ‘career criminals’! your dog whistle slogan here!), and make that a basis for applying the death penalty in cases that otherwise call for life imprisonment.

  3. Numenaster says

    I agree too. It boggles my mind that a nation that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment somehow thinks that KILLING PEOPLE is not cruel or unusual. Even though we arrest private citizens who do the same.

  4. Desert Son, OM says

    Numenaster at #3:

    a nation that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment

    The U.S. has been sliding on that one for more than a decade, now, with torture of prisoners from the “War on Terror,” extradition to countries that torture, and detainment without trial or counsel.

    ••••

    Mano Singham in subject post:

    Why do we seem to be so determined to carry out a punishment that has no redeeming value and has been rejected by so many nations? It seems to be doing nothing more than satiating a desire for vengeance on the part of the state and revenge on the part of the loved ones of the victims of the killers.

    I think you answered your own question. I wonder how much of it is linked to religious/spiritualist ideas of a cognizant, conscious universe that cares about what happens to people. Person got hurt by events of the universe? Hurt someone else in return, either as a way to try and injure some imagined personification or for no better reason than, “I’m in misery? O.k., so shall it be for you.”

    The irony being that, if there actually was a caring universe, then why do the events that lead to death penalties even happen in the first place, much less the penalties themselves?

    I’m feeling very depressed about the species today.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  5. Numenaster says

    Robert, I understand the vast gulf between what we say our values are and what we actually do as a nation. I simply find the justifications ridiculous and the result abhorrent. This is me using too many words to say “What the hell is wrong with us!”

  6. colnago80 says

    Why do we seem to be so determined to carry out a punishment that has no redeeming value and has been rejected by so many nations? It seems to be doing nothing more than satiating a desire for vengeance on the part of the state and revenge on the part of the loved ones of the victims of the killers. Surely those are not sufficient reasons for state-sanctioned pre-meditated murder?

    The answer is very simple. It’s called being tough on crime. Both Clinton and Bush reveled in their signing death warrants for convicts convicted of capital crimes. Folks who were against the death penalty were accused by conservative Rethuglican of being soft on crime. The perfect example was the late former governor Pat Brown of California, a steadfast opponent of the death penalty who got into difficulties over the execution of Caryl Chessman, who have been convicted of kidnapping and rape under California’s Little Lindbergh Law and had been sentenced to death. Chessman was a cause celebre in the anti capital punishment community because of his IQ of 160. Actually, Chessman, known as the red light bandit, was a sociopathic piece of filth who brutally raped and caused his victim to spend several years in a mental hospital. I think that there was little doubt that the conviction for kidnapping was a considerable stretch as it involved him moving his victim approximately100 yards from her car to his. He had an exaggerated opinion of his intellect and insisted on acting as his own lawyer. Well, they say that someone to acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client. Had he had competent council, he might well have skated on the death penalty, which after two stays ordered by the governor was finally carried out in 1960. No great loss to humanity but, IMHO, something of a travesty of justice because of what most civil libertarians would consider the improper application of the kidnapping charge.

  7. Desert Son, OM says

    Numenaster at #5:

    I simply find the justifications ridiculous and the result abhorrent.

    Agreed. I apologize for my counterpoint at #4. I didn’t realize what you were trying to convey.

    Thanks for the reply.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  8. Nick Gotts says

    “Why” is fairly simple, I think: it’s popular, so politicians support it (there’s no countervailing pressure from the elite as there is with many things that would be popular), and it’s popular because of the desire for retribution. Capital punishment was abolished in the UK in the 1960s, but polls have indicated more or less continuously that a majority would like it reinstated. Fortunately, a clear majority of British politicians continue to oppose it – as far as I can tell, from genuine conviction; and there would also be legal problems with Europe if it was reinstated. But with the rise of UKIP – our own version of the Tea Party – I can’t rule it out. (It’s not currently official UKIP policy, I should note, but they are shifting British politics to the right at an alarming rate.)

    During a debate on its possible reintroduction, which happen from time to time, the former Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath – not a man I had much time for – came up with one of the best put-downs I’ve ever heard. Some proponent of hanging came out with the standard line that he’d be prepared to act as executioner himself. “That’s not the question”, said Heath; “The question is whether you’re prepared to be executed by mistake.”

  9. hyphenman says

    Mano,

    PZ asked the question that I have pondered dozens of times:

    We’re just fostering barbarism when we don’t reject these kinds of sentiments…and it makes it hard to reject them when states support them.

    Also, another thing that strikes me about these many stories of botched executions, is why is this so difficult? We have countries and a few states with legal euthanasia, practically every veterinarian has put pets to sleep without this ghastly botch, and I’ve personally euthanized many large lab animals — killing gently is easy. There are many drugs that are dangerous because they can kill you quietly, painlessly, almost without you noticing; people buy them, often illegally, for the pleasant effects at low doses.

    So why does our bloated, over-funded penal system have such difficulties with this whole process? It’s almost as if the commenters up above are running the whole show, and are maliciously screwing up the procedure to cause maximum agony.

    There may be a reason, but I’ve not found a valid response anywhere.

    Jeff

  10. Dunc says

    Are there no doctors in Oklahoma? No pharmacists? No toxicologists? FFS, no veterinarians–who euthanize plenty of animals every day with one shot of pentobarbitol or sodium thiopental?

    I believe they’re all prohibited from participating in executions by their professional ethics.

  11. richardrobinson says

    A lot of the manufacturers of the drugs favoured for lethal injection refuse to allow their drugs to be used for that purpose. Rachel Maddow covered the whole story last night. It’s basically impossible for prisons to get these drugs.

    Now executioners are using drugs made in compounding pharmacies. They are not sufficiently pure to be used in the large doses needed. Large doses of contaminants are causing these horrific complications.

  12. Numenaster says

    We’ve seen issues before with products from compounding pharmacies, too. Rachel’s show referred to them as “lightly regulated”, and that has led to accidental poisonings from contaminated equipment.

  13. Jonny Vincent says

    BBC Horizon: How to Kill a Human Being (YouTube)

    2:52 – 3:52 you can see the pig preference testing the method of execution.

    5:58 – 7:26 exchange with the leading voice of the pro-death penalty movement in the US. He’s a sick, twisted sociopath. People who think like him are why they’re torturing people on purpose.

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