Tag Archives: execution

Murderers Don’t Execute People. Murderers MURDER People – by Rob Atkinson

Nous sommes tous Charlie

Nous sommes tous Charlie

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris earlier this week, and amidst all of the horror and the inevitable soul-searching that follows any such tragic event, an old and unwelcome misuse of terminology has reared its ugly head again and – in its own subtle and insidious way – could be set to play its part in undermining the fight against terrorism and mass murder. The word being misused is “execution”. It’s being wheeled out all over the media to refer to the acts of the cowards guilty of these foul crimes – and the danger is that, to some, it might just lend a false air of dignity and gravitas to what is more accurately just another disgusting act of terrorism. cowardice and callous rejection of all that is civilised.

The Charlie Hebdo story is everywhere at the moment, and rightly so. It’s a high-profile atrocity, the terrorists’ answer to the maxim of peaceful people everywhere that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. It is because of this context that it’s so important we get our terminology right, and don’t risk succouring the enemy by portraying its actions in an unrealistic, even flattering, light. If we are to match the pen against the sword with any hope of ultimately winning, then we have to give an appropriate name to the criminal acts we are opposing. This is not merely a matter of semantics, it’s far, far more important. As a first principle, let’s call murder precisely that. Let’s speak of cowardly attacks, let’s talk of helpless and innocent victims. Let’s not use a legal term whose meaning has been perverted far beyond its original application.

The word “execution” in a capital punishment context, refers to application of a death warrant consequent upon judicial proceedings. It is the warrant, properly speaking, that is executed – not the miscreant at the end of the rope. Whether you’re pro or anti the death penalty wherever it might still apply, you are surely aware that it is a culmination of this lengthy legal process. It is not a random killing perpetrated by a random individual or group who have accorded themselves the right to make their own rules and enforce their own penalties, without regard for law, justice or the sanctity of life, and devil take the hindmost. When we use the word “execution” in connection with events like the chilling murders in Paris, we run the very real risk of planting incorrect impressions in uncritical minds. We are in danger of depicting the thugs and terrorists as having some kind of moral or even legal force behind their heinous actions. We must not do this. Murder is murder, and should be scorned and met with horror and outrage. Any language which seems even slightly to suggest that such an action can be mentioned in the same breath as the outcome of due process must be suppressed in the interests of preserving the truth of the matter. Murderers don’t execute people. Murderers murder people.

I was listening to the radio only a little while after the attack, and a BBC Five Live reporter was talking about some video pictures from the scene in Paris, deemed too graphic to broadcast, of “a terrorist executing a policeman.” Wrong! That policeman was not executed. He was murdered, the victim of a cowardly and tawdry act that has nothing to do with civilisation, nothing to do with the judiciary or the forces of law and justice. His family have been deprived of this man, not by a legal warrant, but by a hooded coward, a murderous thug wielding an illegal weapon. That is the fact of the matter. Use of the word “execution” can only give a false, misleading and utterly unhelpful impression.

The pen is mightier than the sword – and words (even cartoons) properly used and artfully aimed, can strike home where an arsenal of missiles might fail to reach. What more graphic proof of that than the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a visceral reaction to the wounding power of high-class satire? Given that, let us not play into the enemy’s hands by dignifying their actions with the wrong words. Let their cowardly attacks be described with scorn, derision and condemnation. Let’s not succour the thugs by appearing to admit some moral compass in their grisly world of terror and intimidation.

May the victims of this cowardly and barbaric attack rest in peace. Aujourd’hui, je suis Charlie. Demain, et dans l’avenir, nous sommes tous Charlie.


Capital Punishment – It’s Not Quite As Simple As It Seems

ImageIn the wake of recent atrocities abroad, and our own tragedies here in the UK, we can sadly reflect that the gap in between these appalling stories seems to grow ever shorter, as we look ahead gloomily and wonder: whatever next? That the proliferation of different types of news media is quite probably giving a skewed picture of how common these calamities are, is pretty cold comfort. Bad things are happening out there, all the time it would seem, and the world doesn’t feel a particularly safe place to be.

Another effect of rolling 24-hour news stations and the exponential growth of social media is that, as fast as the information comes out to the public, so we – the recipients of all the bad news – are able to give our own instant reactions. All too often this will take the shape of lurid demands for death to be answered with death; the calls for a return of capital punishment grow more vociferous with every awful case that hits the headlines. Facebook pages will see a rash of images, prominently featuring the symbolic noose and demanding support for the view that the latest culprit should face the ultimate penalty. Feelings run high; the anti-hangers are just as passionately convinced as those who shout “Bring back the rope”, and the debate waxes hot and emotive.

Perhaps the most emotive argument put by the pro-hanging brigade runs as follows: If it were your son or daughter who was the victim of the latest murder or rape – wouldn’t you want the culprit to pay with his or her life? My answer to that tends to be an honest “yes”. If my daughter were to become a tragic statistic, I’d certainly want to kill the perpetrator myself; I believe this to be a normal human reaction. But it is also the reason why the relatives of victims don’t sit in judgement of those accused, and aren’t responsible for deciding the penalty that the law shall hand down. Justice requires dispassionate and impartial appraisal of the facts and circumstances, something that would surely be beyond the ken of anybody personally involved or actually bereaved.

I’ve tried, when defending my anti-capital punishment stance, to explain this distinction, but I’m usually accused of fudging the issue. But what if we were to put the opposite or reciprocal situation? Imagine this. Your son or daughter is accused of a murder, and the evidence against them is incontrovertible. You see them convicted, you watch in horror from the courtroom as the judge dons the black cap and pronounces sentence of death upon your flesh and blood. You, a lifelong proponent of capital punishment, a vociferous campaigner for the retention of the rope, see your offspring led, terrified and weeping, down to the cells to embark upon the wait that will end with a walk to the gallows.

Time goes by. Legal avenues of appeal are exhausted; pleas for clemency are entered, to no avail. Justice must take its course. You’re on record as enthusiastically backing the death penalty; you’ve written strongly-worded letters in the past to the quality press, emphasising the folly of removing this ultimate sanction, this absolute deterrent. Now your own child’s options have run out, and they will be put to death early tomorrow.

At home, you’re up at seven after no sleep. You can’t eat anything. You can’t meet the eyes of your family; they know your views from a lifetime of theoretical but heated discussion. Now that the reality you never foresaw is here, there is no appetite to go over those old arguments again. The clock draws closer to eight o’clock. There is a priest in the cell with your child, trying as best he can to ease these final moments, to give the comfort that you’re barred from providing. As the clock strikes eight, you know that there is a sudden burst of activity, your offspring ordered to bolt down a measure of rum, then arms and legs pinioned, a hood jerked over their head and assisted, blindly stumbling, into the neighbouring execution chamber. Within seconds, the trap has opened; your precious son or daughter has plummeted downwards to a sickening jerk as their life is snuffed out at the behest of the law. Your child is dead.

In your silent living room, you join together with your grief-stricken, heartbroken family, seeking such comfort as you can give each other as the awful reality sinks in. You look at each other, and you see the real victims of capital punishment, of so-called judicial execution. You have just embarked on a life-sentence of mourning one of your own family; killed by the state in the name of justice, condemning you and the rest of your kin, who have done nothing wrong, to years of misery and bitterness. You will live with the effects of this sentence, your miscreant son or daughter is beyond all that, and right now their body is being recovered by the functionaries who saw sentence of death carried out.

Anybody who supports the return of capital punishment should do themselves a favour; think about it in these terms. It’s beyond unlikely that you might ever be called upon to deliver a vigilante-type summary justice to someone who has harmed your son or daughter. But in a country regressive enough to have a law to enable the state to kill, it would always be possible that the alternative scenario could become a shocking reality for you and yours. If you really think you could accept it, as the price of a principle you hold sincerely – then go ahead and campaign away, post those images of a noose on Facebook, demand death for someone you’ll never know. You have more resolve than I could muster.

But I honestly beg leave to doubt it. I frankly defy anyone to say that they could accept becoming a collateral victim of capital punishment, bereaved by the law, forced to live out their own guiltless life in the knowledge that their country killed their child.

Capital punishment is no easy answer. It is a barbaric, horrific and out-dated relic, tainted by the nightmare grisly ceremony of the whole process, something incongruous to a modern society and rightly consigned to the dustbin of history. It must never return.

Mini-rant #2 – Why “Execution-style Killings” Are Anything But

“Execution-style Killing”. It’s one of those chilling news-story phrases that are fairly frequently-used, lazily, thoughtlessly and as a knee-jerk response it would seem, by habit-driven journos or unmotivated sub-editors. But this one is deeply, deeply inappropriate, offensive and misleading.

The fact is that the killings thus referred to are almost invariably visited upon one or more unfortunate individuals who have transgressed the code of some or other criminal organisation. These common gangs evidently consider that they have the right to make their own rules and enforce their own penalties, without regard for law. justice or the sanctity of life, and devil take the hindmost.

That “sanctity of life” thing is important. Law is a creation of Humankind, as to a lesser extent are the concepts of justice and ethics. But life being sacred, that’s just a fact, an absolute given, arising out of the sheer rarity of sentient existence. We’re all brief sparks of being in the awful immensity of time and space. For all we know, each of us has waited billions of years for our one chance at life, and when our infinitesimal span is done, then there’ll be innumerable further billions of years during which we shall not exist. Life is an unbelievably rare and precious gift, and to take it from someone – anyone – is the ultimate crime.

For me, this crime of killing encompasses all taking of human life, even what the various authorities down the centuries have been pleased to call “judicial killing”, or execution; the death penalty. That’s a subject for another day, but you catch my drift – I’m not in favour. The best that can be said of judicial execution is that, however flawed and misguided – even barbaric – the legal process might be, it is at least there, in some shape or form.

ImageThis cannot be said of the criminal act of summary murder, and it is grievously deceptive to use quasi-legal terms in referring to it. “Execution” in the judicial context refers not to the miscreant at the end of the rope, but to the legal warrant issued in consequence of their conviction for some awful crime. So the fact that someone has been tied up and shot in the back of the head, or beheaded live on some middle-eastern TV channel, or however they might be dispatched, does not lend itself to the description “execution-style”. No legal process is involved, no judicial warrant is issued and there is no conformity to the ideals of justice as developed over thousands of years. What we have instead is a tawdry, common murder.

This is not just an exercise in semantics. The common practice of referring to common killing in this way involves a danger of lending a spurious air of legitimacy to what is just a sordid crime. A lot of these self-styled armies, movements and groups desire nothing more than the appearance of justification for their actions. To aid and abet this desire, in any way at all, is inimical to justice, civilisation and the interests of those who are in danger of winding up victims of murder, dressed up in whatever disguise of necessity or expediency.

Murder is murder. Killing is killing. Let’s call them exactly what they are, and dispense with any false trappings of acceptability. If we are to lend the killers, the common, criminal killers, any vestige of respectability then we must, at least in some measure, share in the blame for the atrocities that – thus encouraged – they will continue to perpetrate.