Cruel and Unusual Punishment: “[H]is head just snapped off”

Just when it seemed like the US administration of “justice” in Iraq could not get any more sadistic and barbaric, it was announced by news networks that Barzan Hassan, Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, was decapitated in a “botched” hanging on January 15.

Barzan Hassan and Awad Bandar were hanged side-by-side wearing orange Guantanamo jumpsuits following their convictions for the Orwellian “crimes against humanity”. It is arguable whether government action against conspirators who attempted to assassinate the elected political leader of the state rises to the level of “crimes against humanity.” Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, four conspirators were hanged, including the first woman hanged by the US, Mary Surratt. Principal assassin John Wilkes Booth was killed evading capture. Would these hangings be “crimes against humanity”?

The US-installed Shiite regime videotaped the hanging like it had done earlier for the Saddam Hussein hanging. The Shiite regime then showed the hanging video to selected US journalists.  New York Times reporter John F. Burns was shown the video. He described what he had seen to CNN: “Two deeply frightened men in orange jumpsuits, Guantanamo-style, standing on the trapdoor, black hoods over their heads as they intoned the prayer of death. … As … they dropped the eight feet allowed by the coiled rope his head just snapped off, just like that, in an instant.”

John F. Burns is infamous for his “interviews” of Bosnian Serb Borislav Herak during the the three-way 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war. Herak and another Bosnian Serb, Sretko Damjanovic, were tried and convicted by a Bosnian Muslim court and were to be executed by a Bosnian Muslim firing squad. They were sentenced to death for allegedly killing Bosnian Muslim brothers Kasim and Asim Blekic. Later, it was revealed that their confessions were obtained through torture. Damjanovic displayed four knife wounds and a broken rib. His Bosnian Muslim interrogators had beaten, tortured, and abused him to obtain a false confession.

On March 1, 1997, John F. Burns’ newspaper, The New York Times, revealed that the two Bosnian Muslim murder victims were actually alive. In the Orwellian news story, “Jailed Serbs’ ‘Victims’ Found Alive, Embarrassing Bosnia”, the Times disclosed that the alleged murder victims had been members of the Bosnian Muslim Army during the civil war who still lived in Sarajevo. It had all been a phony and staged show trial meant for the US and Western media. Two Bosnian Serbs were to be executed based on this fake “justice”.

This is the same John F. Burns. The faked Bosnian news coverage was a classic instance of US infowar techniques gone haywire and awry. It was an absurd instance of US media propaganda on a scale that surpassed George Orwell’s 1984. What was the fallout from this propagranda? Burns received a Pulitzer Prize for his fake and phony Orwellian propaganda. He was never forced to give it back. He was never stripped of his Pulitzer Prize for fraudulent and fake reporting. Burns should be a discredited and disgraced propagandist and yellow journalist, a scumbag for hire. Instead, he is reporting on heads snapping off in Iraq. Burns moved up the journalistic ladder because he is a shill for the government, a government mouthpiece. Like the phony Weapons of Mass Destruction story that the New York Times peddled, which aided the US government and corporate interests, Burns’ phony reporting in Bosnia was rewarded.

Why did his head just snap off? Isn’t this an example of cruel and unusual or inhumane punishment? First, why was the hanging videotaped and shown to journalists, journalists from the occuping country? John F. Burns is a reporter for the US, the country that has invaded and militarily occupied Iraq. Why should he be shown a video of the execution? Why impact will this hanging have on the Sunni Arabs? Why do we have to know every gruesome and ghoulish detail of the hanging? Is this for some sort of pathological sadistic pleasure? What is the purpose and objective?

A punishment is cruel and unusual when the victims are deprived of their human dignity. US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan held that the  “essential predicate” in determining what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” is “that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity.”  Under the UN Universal Declaration of Human Right, cruel and unusual punishment is proscribed: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Under the European Convention on Human Rights, the proscription is: “No one shall be subjected to … inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. By videotaping and showing the execution to foreign journalists, indeed, occupation journalists, the hanging is turned into a media circus and Orwellian “spectacle”. Human dignity is not being respected. The victims are butchered like dogs or cattle. The hanging is like a racist lynching from US history. And then their sufferings and last moments before death are broadcast around the globe to show how the “global hegemon” has “won” in Iraq.

Second, a beheading in a hanging is regarded as cruel and unusual punishment. The victim should not be decapitated in a hanging. In a long drop hanging, a careful calculation is made to avoid a decapitation, taking into account the weight and height and physical stature of the victim. A decapitation can only occur by plan and premeditation. A strangulation is also something that occurs through planning and pre-meditation. The problem is that it is difficult to prove that the hangman planned such a result. It is euphemistically termed a “botched” hanging. From the evidence, Hassan was allowed to drop at least 8 feet, the maximum being 9 feet in a long drop hanging. Based on his weight and height, the drop should have been much shorter. How do you “botch” something like this? The only rational conclusion is that the beheading and decapitation was planned in advance. What is the motive?

This is clearly a sectarian lynching, an act of revenge against a Sunni Muslim victim perpetrated by a Shiite Muslim. The decapitation is meant to send a message to the Sunni Arabs: Sunnis, you are finished as a people in Iraq. You will no longer be in power. This is what we will do to you if you resist us. This was the message of the earlier hanging of Saddam Hussein as well. This is not justice, but revenge or vindictive triumph. The inevitable result is to fuel sectarian violence and to preclude a reconciliation. At the very least, an investigation should be launched to determine how this hanging was “botched”.

The “botched” hanging of Saddam Hussein’s half-brother has historical parallels in the “botched” hangings of the Nazis at Nuremberg on October 16, 1946. Ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged by the US, which had set up the International Military Tribunal (IMT). They were hanged in such a way as to maximize pain and suffering, in effect, to torture the victims to death. The way this was done was to use a short hangman’s noose, the short drop method of hanging, which ensured the slow strangulation of the victims. Where and how the noose is placed on the neck of the victim is pivotal in how the person is hanged. The length of the rope is also crucial.

Master Sergeant John C. Woods of the Third US Army was the hangman at Nuremberg. He was an experienced hangman from San Antonio, Texas. He had hanged 347 people in 15 years in the US.

It took from 10 minutes to 24 minutes for the Nazi war criminals to die on the gallows. They died by slow strangulation. Woods made the opening of the drop door small so that the victims would be mutilated when they hit it. Woods consciously sought to ensure a slow death by stragulation. In an ironic and perverse twist, Woods was himself accidentally electrocuted on July 17, 1950 on Eniwetok Island while testing an electric chair.

The trial and conviction of Julius Streicher was a controversion one. Telford Taylor, part of the US prosecution team, stated: “I was left in a quandary about the legal basis of the charges against him”. Streicher was an anti-Semitic publisher and Nazi Party member who initially was a gauleiter. He was stripped of his government posts by the German regime in 1940. Streicher’s case brought up issues of freedom of speech and of the press. While his writings clearly incited racial hatred and intolerance, Streicher himself was never involved in any violence against Jews. What motivated Woods in “botching” the hanging, however, was Streicher’s defiance towards the US. Woods so set up the noose that Streicher was alive and conscious when he fell through the trap door. Woods planned to slowly strangle Streicher to death in a horrific display of sadistic cruelty amounting to torture.

Howard Kingsbury Smith, later known as Howard K. Smith for CBS and ABC News,  then a reporter for the International News Service, witnessed the hangings and filed a report. Smith described the “botched” hanging of Julius Streicher, as follows:

“At that instant the trap opened with a loud bang. He went down kicking. When the rope snapped taut with the body swinging wildly, groans could be heard from within the concealed interior of the scaffold. Finally, the hangman, who had descended from the gallows platform, lifted the black canvas curtain and went inside. Something happened that put a stop to the groans and brought the rope to a standstill. After it was over I was not in the mood to ask what he did, but I assume that he grabbed the swinging body of Streicher and pulled down on it. We were all of the opinion that Streicher had strangled.”

Did Woods “botch” the hanging or did he consciously plan to slowly strangle and torture Streicher to death? Ironically, Woods showed the same sadistic and cruel joy in killing that the Nazis themselves had demonstrated. Was this “justice” or vindictive triumph, the vengeance of the victors? Clealry, Woods wanted to torture Streicher by very slowly strangling him to death because he showed “defiance” towards his US victors. How is the “justice” of the victors different from that of the victims? Isn’t it just victors’ justice?

In a hanging, the person hanged should not be beheaded or decapitated. This is cruel and unusual and inhumane punishment. When this happens, it is almost certain that it was planned. This cannot be “botched” or occur by “mistake” or error. How is this US-installed Shiite sectarian “government” any different from the Saddam Hussein regime that the US overthrew? If anything, this US-installed puppet regime is more barbaric and brutal and vindictive. At any rate, these horrific and horrendous hangings will only exacerbate sectarian divisions and increase the killings among Shiites and Sunnis. Is this what the US wants? These barbaric hangings also demonstrate the empty and hollow nature of “freedom” and “democracy” that was the propaganda and ideological rationale for the illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq in the first place.

The troubling aspect of these glorified lynchings is the misuse of the legal process, of “justice”, that the War Party demonstrates. It is a disgusting and revolting cynicism and contemptuous display towards international and domestic law and the legal process and system itself. The law becomes merely another tool in the arsenal of the War Party. What results is the degradation of law. Law is then held in contrmpt. Vengeance and retribution in the guise of “law” is merely something that the victors impose on a vanquished foe. They hijack and exploit the legal system and process to further their self-interested and self-serving agendas. These hangings, which are nothing more than lynchings, will further undermine the integrity of international and domestic law and of the legal process itself.