human rights images, photography and journalism

The Symbolic Decapitation of the Tyrant, A Collection of Images

A Russian soldier carries a statue head of Adolf Hitler. Berlin, circa May 1945

A Russian soldier carries a statue head of Adolf Hitler. Berlin, circa May 1945

December 1956:  A crowd of people surround the demolished head of a statue of Josef Stalin, including Daniel Sego, the man who cut off the head, during the Hungarian Revolt, Budapest, Hungary. Sego is spitting on the statue.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

December 1956: A crowd of people surround the demolished head of a statue of Josef Stalin, including Daniel Sego, the man who cut off the head, during the Hungarian Revolt, Budapest, Hungary. Sego is spitting on the statue. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As the Soviet Empire fractured, symbols of the Party were dismantled. Huge statues of Lenin and Stalin were toppled, alternately grieved or abused by onlookers, then trucked away to be abandoned in fields or other remote spots, where one could stroll among the enormous body parts of the former high priests of communism. Here a passerby takes an opportunity to gives Lenin a scolding while construction workers who helped dismantle the statue look on.

As the Soviet Empire fractured, symbols of the Party were dismantled. Huge statues of Lenin and Stalin were toppled, alternately grieved or abused by onlookers, then trucked away to be abandoned in fields or other remote spots, where one could stroll among the enormous body parts of the former high priests of communism. Here a passerby appears to take an opportunity to gives Lenin a scolding while construction workers who helped dismantle the statue look on.

In Baghdad's Qadhamiya neighbourhood on 9 April 2003, people drag the head of a statue of Saddam Hussein which is joyfully battered by bystanders.

In Baghdad’s Qadhamiya neighbourhood on 9 April 2003, people drag the head of a statue of Saddam Hussein which is joyfully battered by bystanders.

Standard
capital punishment, law, vagaries of moral progress

The Vagaries of Moral Progress (18): Bringing Back the Guillotine

Guillotine

(source)

Bringing back the guillotine may sound crazy, but it’s certainly better than the current alternative. It’s better for prisoners because quickly severing the head is believed to be one of the quickest, least painful ways to die. And it’s better for organ recipients because the bodies of guillotined prisoners could be more quickly harvested for viable parts, unlike organs that may become unusable after lethal injection due to hypoxemia. …

Dr. Jay Chapman, the creator of the three-drug cocktail, supports ditching his 1977 invention due to its reputation for causing slow, painful deaths. “The simplest thing I know of is the guillotine,” he told CNN in 2007. “And I’m not at all opposed to bringing it back. The person’s head is cut off and that’s the end of it.” …

[A]dministering [lethal injection] requires medical professionals to violate the Hippocratic Oath. The American Medical Association officially discourages physicians from participating in lethal injections. The guillotine sidesteps any Hippocratic hypocrisy. The layman can operate a guillotine just as well as a doctor. (source)

You can add the fact that a shortage of a key ingredient used in lethal injections has led some US states to experiment with new, untested drug cocktails for executing death row inmates. If these problems with the current method of execution are real, I know a far better solution. I also don’t buy the argument that the messy nature of decapitation – compared to injection – would move more people, especially those who for some reason witness executions, to oppose capital punishment. Those people are a tiny minority unlikely to sway public opinion one way or the other, and some of those witnesses may even relish the sight of evil people being reduced to a bloody mess.

More on the supposedly humane nature of decapitation by the guillotine is here. More posts in this series are here.

Standard
annals of heartlessness, capital punishment

Annals of Heartlessness (36): Capital Punishment in Saudi Arabia

capital punishment in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is considering changing its standard execution method. Instead of beheading by sword they plan to use the firing squad. One of the swordsmen says he’s not worried about the future of his profession.

[He] has been apprenticing his son in beheadings. He acknowledges, though, that the government’s concerns about a shortage of qualified swordsmen are justified. “This profession is not desired by many,” he told Okaz, “despite the salary and personal reward we gain from it.” (source)

Personal reward of what kind exactly? Pleasure? Accomplishment? Pride? All of the above? You also have to wonder about the age of his son, and about the exact practice method.

More on capital punishment in Saudi Arabia is here. More in the annals of heartlessness here.

Standard
capital punishment, vagaries of moral progress

The Vagaries of Moral Progress (6): Capital Punishment in Saudi Arabia

capital punishment in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi executioner prepares to behead a convicted drug dealer in Jeddah in this 1985 image. Photograph: Rex Features

(source)

In Saudi Arabia they use a strictly etymological interpretation of the phrase “capital punishment”. However, there’s now a proposal to abandon beheadings and to look for alternatives:

Last week, the Saudi daily Al-Youm reported that Saudi Arabia is considering transitioning away from the state’s institutionalized method of executing convicts: beheading by sword. Beheading — the approach to carrying out death sentences in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century — has long been practiced in the kingdom in observance of its strict interpretation of Islamic law, which seeks to mimic practices at the time of Mohammed. But a committee of Saudi government officials recently ruled that execution by firing squad would also be permissible under the national brand of sharia.

“This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages of official swordsmen,” the committee explained in a statement quoted by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. The committee also complained that official swordsmen have been known to show up late to executions. (source)

Letting convicts wait for their execution? Standard practice in other countries, and according to some an extra punishment that is richly deserved.

Does this mean those few remaining swordsmen will be out of a job soon? It turns out the Saudi newspaper Okaz asked one of them: Mecca-based executioner Mohammad Saad al-Biishi. He says he’s not concerned, citing the fact that he’s already received firearms training. In the meantime, he’ll keep on with the beheadings. (source)

More on capital punishment in Saudi Arabia is here. More posts in this series are here.

Standard
annals of heartlessness

Annals of Heartlessness (19): “I Ain’t Got No Body”

A public decapitation in China on a postcard, with a heartless comment:

beheading in China

beheading in China

(source unknown)

The precise historical context of the scene is unclear to me, but it appears to be during or before WWII, and the executioners are probably Japanese soldiers.

The song that’s cited in the comment is here. More on decapitation here and here. More in the annals of heartlessness here.

Standard
capital punishment, law

Capital Punishment (43): Some Facts About Decapitation

public beheading in Saudi Arabia

public beheading in Saudi Arabia

(source unknown, more about capital punishment in Saudi Arabia here, here, here, here and here)

It used to be a common practice, but today only a handful of countries still execute criminals by way of beheading (Qatar, Saudi Arabia and perhaps one or two other countries).

Assuming that decapitation occurs in a “civilized” way and that it doesn’t take a number of blows or cuts to the neck in order to sever the head from the body – which, in practice, is not always a correct assumption: does the brain remain conscious for a few seconds after a clean and quick decapitation? There are many historical reports of decapitated heads showing facial movements or even the attempt to speak right after decapitation. It’s not clear what to make of this, since facial movements can just as well be spasms.

However, experiments with rats have shown brain activity after decapitation. Sure, there’s no way to be sure that this is true for the human brain as well – since “further scientific observation of human decapitation is unlikely”, in the words of Alan Bellows. Still, the rat experiments are suggestive:

[R]esearchers connected an EEG machine to the brains of rats, decapitated them and recorded the electrical activity in the brain after the event. [They] found that for about four seconds after being separated from the body, the rats’ brains continued to generate electrical activity between the 13 to 100-Hertz frequency band, which is associated with consciousness and cognition, defined as “a mental process that includes thinking”. (source)

The circulatory system delivers oxygen to the brain so that it can carry out its functions. When suddenly deprived of oxygen or blood after a clean and quick decapitation – or after several severe blows to the neck with a knife, sword or axe, before full decapitation – the brain’s function deteriorates rapidly, but perhaps not instantaneously. This would imply that individuals, after suffering a clean and quick decapitation, can still think, perceive, feel and suffer pain and anguish during a few horrible seconds after which the brain, which itself receives no trauma during decapitation, stops functioning because blood loss causes unconsciousness and death.

A related story is here. More on beheadings here. And on capital punishment here.

Standard
capital punishment

Capital Punishment (14): in Saudi Arabia

chop chop square riyadh saudi arabia

(source, “chop chop square” in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the executions take place)

From an article by Adam St Patrick in The Walrus Magazine:

A slender sword – four feet of shining steel, curved at the end – hovers high above a kneeling figure shrouded in white. Only the kneeler’s neck is exposed. Sixty or so men watch from the edge of a granite courtyard, behind a patchy line of eight soldiers in tan uniforms. The man wielding the sword looms high, almost spectral, in a flowing white dishdasha and a red-checked head cloth. He is ready to swing but then steps back. He huddles with two police and the one person who can make this stop: the victim of the crime that’s being punished.

The huddle breaks, and the executioner retakes his position, left of the condemned. He sets his right leg forward and his left leg back, as if about to stretch his left calf. Sunlight flashes on the blade as he draws it above his head. … [He] gently lowers the blade to jab at the condemned’s neck, which jerks the prisoner’s body to attention. Then the real blow: the blade is drawn high up, then swung back down. It cleaves skin, muscle, and bone with a hollow, echoing thud. A lurid crimson waterfall chases the head to the granite with the sound of a wet rag being wrung out over a stainless steel sink. The body sways forward, snaps up, and slumps off to the right.

saudi arabia execution

video still of a beheading on "chop chop square" in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

(source)

This is Saudi Arabia, one of the last places on earth where capital punishment is a public spectacle. Decapitation awaits murderers, but the death penalty also applies to many other crimes, such as armed robbery, rape, adultery, drug use and trafficking, and renouncing Islam. There’s a woman on death row now for witchcraft, and the charge is based partly on a man’s accusation that her spell made him impotent.

Saudi Arabia executed some 1,750 convicts between 1985 and 2008, yet reliable information about the practice is scarce. In Riyadh, beheadings happen at 9 a.m. any given day of the week, and there is no advance notice.

Beheadings take place in a downtown public square equipped with a drain the size of a pizza box in its centre. Expatriates call it Chop Chop Square (see image above). I showed up at 9 a.m. most days for several weeks. After arriving at the barren granite expanse for yet another morning, I’d drink tea with merchants in the bazaar next door. Popular opinion seems to allow more respect for the executioners than sympathy for those wrongfully convicted, and rumors about the mysterious swordsmen abound. He must kill, one carpet dealer told me. If he doesn’t kill for a few days, they give him a sheep to kill. The job is a coveted one, often passed from father to son. In a Lebanese TV clip now on YouTube, a Saudi executioner shows off his swords and describes his approach: If the heart is compassionate, the hand fails.

More data on capital punishment here. A philosophical post rejecting capital punishment in general is here.

Standard