Saturday, May 26, 2012

Capital Punishment's latest folly

"The lethal-injection quandary is playing out in a second lawsuit brought by The Associated Press and other news organizations to challenge five states that are violating a 2002 federal court mandate that the law requires every step of execution to be witnessed in behalf of the public. When the death chamber curtains have been drawn lately in Idaho, Washington, Montana, Arizona and Nevada, the main insertion of the lethal injection has already occurred. Some subjects have been seen to barely move, with suspicions arising about some inhumane trauma taking place out of sight.
This shortcut is obviously designed to lessen the risk of official embarrassment if something goes wrong. In the past, bungled injections have left some subjects writhing in agony on a gurney. The death penalty is barbaric. These problems are all reminders of why it is folly to pretend that state execution can ever be made humane."
From editorial, New Your Times, 26th May 2012
The fairy tale is that the executed fall into a peaceful death, like children lured to sleep by their parents

Friday, May 25, 2012

Yong Vui Kong: Answer to Singapore question

“Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say ‘We let you go’, what is the signal we are sending?”
Mr. K. Shanmugam, Minister of Law and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore has posed this question. As related in an earlier posting on this blog, Yong Vui Kong was arrested when 19 years old. He has been condemned to death on a drug charge. He is now 23 years old.

Here is an answer to Mr. K. Shanmugam:

The signal will say, strongly and clearly, human life is inviolable. The Government respects and acts in respect of this principle. It rejects the trade of drugs on the same principle, but recognises that killing is not an appropriate rejection of killing. It is as simple as that.

The message you send is that this young man has wagered human life for personal gain. He must be punished. But the punishment will involve rehabilitation, the chance to remake his life, based on the same conviction that human life must never be violated.

Meanwhile, you will admit that capital punishment is not a remedy for the problem of drugs. Drugs are like cancer. It is an ill of multiple facets. Cancer may be limited and perhaps cured by therapies which are almost lethal. But cancer must also be treated by enhancing the life and health of the patient; only the mentally and bodily strong survive. The incidence of cancer in the community must be tackled by ensuring a pure environment, eliminating noxious chemicals and pollutants. Likewise, drugs are a social ill. They multiply in a society filled with stress and disappointment.
There are brave new initiatives against the culture of drugs. The basis is an honest appraisal of the harm of drugs. Amphetamines are not as addictive and destructive as heroin and its derivatives. The injury of drugs cannot be measured by mere quantity, such that the death penalty applies to all on a quantitative scale. Some drugs can be tolerated to the same extent as alcohol or nicotine. Though their use is regrettable they cannot be measured on the scale of a human life.
Let Singapore look to its competitive, stressful, and very unequal society where the invitation to escape into a drug nirvana becomes attractive. Every life is valuable, life can be fulfilled in various ways, economic success is not the measure of a life.

The final message is an admission that the death penalty is not an effective counter to drug trafficking. Surely, Singapore’s history as the world’s highest executioner in proportion to its population has proved this point. Drugs are still traded, and the low level drug dealers are still executed. For what end? To promote the false premise that Singapore is serious about drugs? The experience of the great majority of nations rejects the claim. Let Singapore respond that its barbarity is ill placed. Your respect for human life will be warmly welcomed and you will receive encouragement and cooperation in joining efforts throughout the world to control the morbid trade of drugs and addiction.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Death of Thai Executioner

At the end of April, Khun Chavorat Jaruboon , the executioner of Bang Kwang prison, died of cancer.
His wife prayed that he would be accepted in the afterworld by the 55 persons he had executed. No doubt they will have learned the wisdom of pardon and be merciful to him.
The best that can be said of him is that he tried to make the process of execution as efficient as possible. One cannot say, as painless as possible, for execution is the most horrendous injury which can be inflicted on a human being.

Why did he volunteer to be executioner, the choice was his? He mentions that he needed the cash payments of  2000 baht he received each time he carried out a killing. He also enjoyed the prominence he received from his superiors and from those outside who knew his trade; in ordinary prison service he would have passed unnoticed. The British Embassy liked to have him on show at receptions.

A Canadian film, 'The Widow of St. Pierre' depicts a small French colony having neither a guillotine nor an executioner. A murder is committed in a moment of drunken rage. The murderer could have passed his life in some kind of penal servitude if he had not attracted the interest and attraction of the wife of the Governor of St. Pierre. To end the gossip of the island, a guillotine was imported. But an executioner was not available. Eventually, an illegal immigrant was pressed to take on the post.

Executions require an executioner. Khun Chavorat accepted the mandate of the State to execute as directed. But he was also a Buddhist and knew well that the primary teaching of the Buddha was a respect for all living things and a consequent prohibition on killing. He consulted the monk who accepted the bodies of those executed in the temple adjoining the prison, who told him that his act was good as it gave entry to a new incarnation for those whose fate it was to die for their crimes.
He accepted the command of the State and the rationalisation  of religion, ending the days of execution with a beer drinking session.

Such is the personal tragedy of the one who takes on our responsibility of punishment. Violence is accepted in the State, in the life of the executioner, and in the lives of all of us.
On an occasion when I met Khun Chavorat, he held out his hand in greeting. Perhaps he did not sense my hesitation to return the hand shake. It took a moment for me to realise that I too, citizen of a country which executes, was also an executioner. Chavorat was my deputy.