This morning, my love of old movies and state nicknames collides with my hatred of the death penalty. The featured image is the firing squad at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war classic, Paths Of Glory. The Palmetto State is reviving execution by firing squad with a macabre twist.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed into law a bill that forces death row inmates for now to choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad in hopes the state can restart executions after an involuntary 10-year pause.
South Carolina had been one of the most prolific states of its size in putting inmates to death. But a lack of lethal injection drugs brought executions to a halt.
This sounds like one of those build-your-own burritos eateries. Instead, the state is asking inmates to build their own execution. To say this is sick is an understatement. It’s another win for those who believe prisons exist to torture as opposed to punish inmates.
I’ve never understood the concept of a “humane execution.” That’s what execution by lethal injection is supposed to be. In fact, the guillotine, gas chamber, and electric chair were all thought to be more “humane” than hanging or having one’s head chopped off by an axman. The guillotine is swift but it’s messy. Death is messy and inhumane no matter how they try and dress it up.
I’ve also never understood the concept of an “honorable execution.” The Nazi war criminals sentenced to death at the first Nuremberg trial were outraged that they were to die on the gallows. They believed that death by firing squad was an “honorable execution.” One reason Hermann Goering “cheated” his executioners by swallowing cyanide was their insistence on hanging him.
By all accounts, hanging is slow, painful, and has been known not to work. That was what led to all the insane/inane attempts to find a “humane” means of execution. Killing someone is inherently inhumane whether it’s done by the state or an individual. There’s blood, piss, and shit involved no matter how they try and dress it up.
There was a fleeting moment in which SCOTUS banned the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia. They left more loopholes than the abolitionist justices wanted, which led to capital punishment’s revival four years later in Gregg v. Georgia.
The first murderer to be executed after the restoration of the death penalty was Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah. The method of execution was by firing squad. BTW, If you’ve never read The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, check it out. It’s the best thing he ever wrote. The teevee movie with Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as well.
There are several things the Palmetto State did not factor into its new law. The most obvious one: is what if you’ve got the wrong person? DNA testing has led to the reversal of many convictions including murders. Of course, the South Carolina lege is interested in punishment, not justice. It’s too much to expect them to follow the example of the Commonwealth of Virginia which recently abolished the death penalty after having executed the most prisoners in the post-Gregg era.
The other factor is the effect of being on the firing end of a firing squad. Famously, Utah provides blanks to one shooter, but some firing squad member still have psychological problems. Infamously, the Nazis moved from mass shootings to gassings because of the psychological impacts on their soldiers. Does South Carolina plan to recruit sadists and psychopaths to make up their firing squad?
If I were asked to pick my proverbial poison, I’d choose the firing squad, a blindfold, and even a cigarette. I regard asking death row inmates to pick their poison to be a form of psychological torture. It’s bad enough to lose one’s liberty without being required to select one’s exit.
The only humane form of execution is NO executions at all. Murder is murder regardless of who’s pulling the trigger or flipping the switch on the electric chair.
The last word goes to George Orwell from his essay Revenge Is Sour: