Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Tuesday, January 14, 2003  

Julian Kenny takes up the issue of capital punishment (or as he, calling a noose a noose, labels it, State killing) in today's Express. Kenny echoes my position that capital punishment is not a deterrent to murder, is fraught with error, unjust and simply immoral; he also vividly reminds us of its bloody and barbaric past (and present):

"State killing, or for that matter religious or other organised killing, has had a long history in human affairs. Methods vary from contemporary hanging that is on law books or State practice —gassing, garroting, beheading, stoning, shooting, strangulation, burning, electrocution, clubbing, burial, crushing under a wall and of course the latest lethal injection technology, an American derivative of German experiments during the 1930s and ’40s. Remember that the early German eugenic programme on homosexuality in Germany was lethal injection with phenol, later changed to gassing to cope with the larger numbers.

"In the past this broad category of killing would have been applied to an extremely wide range of 'offences', including horse stealing, theft, robbery, rape, economic plunder, forgery, pick pocketing, insurrection, war crimes, witchcraft and simply political or religious differences.... Remember also that State or official killing traditionally was done in public.

"We hang, at least we used to hang. Sentences to being hanged varied from simple stringing up or elevation by a rope around the neck from the gibbet and slow strangulation, through the neck-breaking drop, to the extreme of being hung, drawn and quartered. Most Trinidadians have little appreciation of the lineal continuity between what hopefully will never happen in secrecy in the Royal Jail and the last method. This method was meant to be slow, performed in public and on an elevated platform. If more than one was being killed, the killings would be done in sequence with the victims to be watching the proceedings before their turn. They usually fainted but were invariably revived.

"Official state killers would have been selected for their skills in drawing out the spectacle. Had Trinidad been a British colony some 400 years ago an act of treason would have been dealt with by hanging by the neck and cut down while still alive, drawn (meaning disembowelled while alive so that the intestines spilled out into the victims lap), genitalia cut off and burnt before the victims eyes and then the corpse cut into four quarters to be displayed, while the head was stuck on a pike to be picked over by carrion birds and weathered. The skill of the particular craftsman was determined actually by the length of time he could keep the victim alive while he killed him."

Today's methods of killing may have changed, but that makes capital punishment no less barbaric, no less a means of pandering to the basest of human instincts, the lust for another man's blood. But most shameful of all, as far as we are concerned is that "Trinidad and Tobago’s position on capital punishment is a rather crude position and one that is entirely political in the sense that it is kept alive in the hope of winning votes."

posted by Jonathan | 11:07 AM 0 comments


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