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Gruesome Buddies: ISIS Beheadings
And the American Death Penalty

| September 19, 2014

Repulsive, whatever the method. (Truthout.org)

Repulsive, whatever the method. (Truthout.org)

We are going to war again in Iraq and expanding the bombing to Syria, the seventh country in the Middle East to be graced with American bombings since 2001 (not including Gaza-Palestine, where American bombs are piloted by Israeli largesse). We’re doing this why? Because two Americans and a Brit were beheaded and American media whipped public opinion into a frenzy over it. The same media shrugged when 200,000 Syrians were butchered over the past three years, most of them by the same guy to whom the U.S. Air Force is about to give aid and comfort. The same media chest-thumped and encouraged the butchery of 2,000 Palestinians in July, about a quarter of them children, when Israel launched its latest massacre of Gaza residents. The killing was carried out mostly with weapons you and I paid for. But let the jingoes parade YouTube beheadings and Anglos, and suddenly it’s time to care.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive At least this much is clear: we either don’t know what we want in Middle East or don’t have a clue how to go about getting what we want. We are not expanding the war again for humanitarian or strategic reasons. We are doing so as an emotional response, and because the president’s spine has been replaced with Playdoh. The beheadings were gruesome. And the brutality of the Islamic State is indisputable. But neither adds up to a compelling reason to step up the killing and get back into billion-dollar waste.

More to the point: we have no moral ground to stand on when it using the Islamic State’s bloodlust for execution as a spark plug for intervention. We do it all the time, just as gruesomely. Rick Scott has signed the death warrants of 19 people in his brief tenure as governor, a faster rate of executions than any of his predecessors in a four-year term. Florida has executed 81 people since re-instituting the death penalty in 1979, and the United States has executed almost 1,400 since 1976. We don’t show it on YouTube, because we’re ashamed while pretending to be civilized. We  hide it behind a grotesque dead-man-walking ritual that poses as solemnity.

But I fail to see how less gruesome it is than beheadings, particularly when we have a shameful record of executions gone wrong, whether it’s a head exploding in flames in our own Starke prison or injections’ lethality proving more leisurely than advertised, to the gasping inmate’s realization.

There are also some misconceptions about beheading as a method of execution. It’s not an Islamic invention. It’s a western invention. The Greeks and Romans, founders of our civilization and all things grisly, considered beheading the privileged way of dying, because it was quicker, more certain and less painful than other ways. They reserved the—what, favor, in their eyes?–for their own citizens. Non-Romans, as we well know from Jesus’s experience, got crucified. European countries subsequently reserved beheadings for their aristocrats. All European countries have since abolished the death penalty altogether, finding the act, not just the method, gruesome.

A few more backward countries are still at it of course, including Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which still has public beheadings. In that regard, those countries are no different than the Islamic State. And in that regard, we’re no different, either. We don’t behead people. At least not intentionally. That went out of style in the West with the retirement of the guillotine in Paris in 1977. But we electrocute them, lethally inject them, gas them, hang them or execute them by firing squad, as they still do in Oklahoma and Utah, though the two states, because they have such good hearts, also give prisoners the option of getting injected instead.


The conventional assumption, well-heeled by the American death penalty’s fans and PR specialists, is that capital punishment by these means is more humane, and that it’s more justified than the beheading of innocents. Murdering innocent people as the Islamic State does is barbaric. But it’s the fact that they murder them to start with that makes it barbaric, not the method. It’s not clear how less barbaric lethal injection is just because we say it is.

As for murdering the innocents: In Florida alone, 23 people have been exonerated off death row after conviction, after unexpected evidence turned up. Imagine how many people have been killed here and in other states who, on more careful review, would have been proven innocent. What is certain is that we, too, execute innocent people. We just do it after spending a lot more money to cover our asses. That’s without getting into the racism of a death penalty system that is far more likely to sentence blacks than whites for the same crime. So much for due process.

There may be a few legitimate reasons to attack the Islamic State, though I’d prefer it if Arabs were attacking them, not us. The Islamic State’s method of executions is not among those. Otherwise, we should be bombing ourselves. When it comes to capital punishment, not much separates us from the butchers of the Islamic State. That we do it in English, with more recognizable uniforms and behind closed doors doesn’t make it any less backward, any less barbaric, any less repulsive. This moral high ground can’t be claimed until the death penalty is abolished.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece was broadcast on WNZF.

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20 Responses for “Gruesome Buddies: ISIS Beheadings
And the American Death Penalty”

  1. Jack Howell says:

    Pierre,

    Now that the wizards in Congress have decided to supply Syrian rebels with weapons one has to wonder how many American troops will be Killed or Wounded by weapons made in USA! Is this acceptable? Is it better to be killed by USA manufactured weapons than those made in China, Russia, Iran etc.?? I find it also interesting that the Saudi’s are not committing forces against ISIS. Can you read between the lines! Remember, that the Saudi’s did not do much in Desert Storm. The collation forces did the fighting for them if I recall correctly. They are good at paying others to do their bidding.

    Once again the wizards in Washington, DC from the White House on down, fail to listen to those who know of war. Me thinks these wizards meet at some swanky bar in Georgetown to create our national policies for the Middle East. They think they have “lily white” hands, yet their hands are covered with the blood of our troops!
    With the recent decisions by the White House regarding the plan to handle ISIS, I am reminded of the words of the famous German tactician Carl von Clausewitz (On War) who stated that ” No one starts a war—or rather, no one in (their) senses ought to do so—without first being clear in (their) minds what (they) intend to achieve by that war and how (they) intend to conduct it. The former is its political purpose, the latter its operational objective”.
    Let the Middle East countries fight amongst themselves and the strongest tribe will dominate politics in that region of the world. Been that way for centuries. Enough is enough! I don’t want to see any American blood shed in the Middle East. It is not a just cause!

    Now Pierre, I have to take issue with your position on the death penalty. Simply put, I believe in the use of the death penalty for capital crimes. I don’t compare this to the random acts of those radicals in ISIS. They are committing murder plain and simple. They are rogues, thief’s, murders and rapists. Maybe in their case instead of the biblical “eye for an eye” we should do head for a head. Our Criminal Justice system provides, for the accused, rights to a fair and just trial. Our system is not perfect but, it is far better than any other country in my opinion. Do I feel bad when we have a somewhat botched execution? No, I think about the murder victim and the pain and suffering they endured at the hands of their executioner. We may agree to disagree and I certainly respect your opinion. I am not set for change in my thoughts on this topic. I have seen too much in my life (in the military and in law enforcement) to sway my position.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Jack, just how do you feel when you find out after thirty plus years that the despicable bastards who raped, tortured and murdered an innocent 11 year old girl-child and somehow were not killed immediately ended up being completely innocent themselves?

      I myself think there is a place for killing evil bastards who could do such a despicable deed. I would have pulled the switch myself on these bastards. And I would have been wrong. I would have been a murderer myself, as we all are who would have allowed these innocents to be murdered in our name.

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/02/us-usa-northcarolina-deathrow-idUSKBN0GX2MR20140902

      And as far as the Police who terrorized the two young semi-retarded boys into signing a confession with the promise they could go home, as well as the elected Prosecutor who railroaded them and fought to deny them a DNA test for years, if you are waiting for them to face justice and do time in prison for their outrageous crimes, don’t hold your breath.

    • Kathleen says:

      One of the many problems with the death penalty is that we keep getting it wrong and sentencing innocent people to death. Hell, we’ve even executed some of them. Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos de la Luna jump to mind. We’re up to 145 (or is it 146?) exonerations of people in the USA who have been sentenced to death. There’s a lot of prosecutorial misconduct, eyewitness identifications are notoriously unreliable (Read Picking Cotton — great book) and there’s so much more.

      There are also several organizations made up of murder victims’ family members who have dedicated their lives to ending the death penalty. You can find some of them on youtube — Vicki Schieber, Walt Everett, Bud Welch and lots more.

  2. Jim R. says:

    The beheadings are just an excuse to remove Assad, that is the real reason we are going into Syria. Our intentions are to destroy any leader that doesn’t bow down to the US. We have destabilized Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria is next on the list.
    Is a Hellfire missile blasting into a home and shredding everyone inside any less gruesome than a beheading?

    • NortonSmitty says:

      The beheadings are the same as the recent FBI arrest of one of it’s “informants” in a sting to kill American Soldiers and the same as Australia having a major sweep of “Terrorists” planning on bombing, I don’t know, some national treasure and tomorrows attack on Britain. All just manufactured fear and outrage that once again seems to be right in goose-step beat to the usual drums of war. How convenient.

  3. confidential says:

    Agreed 100% with J R.
    Now regarding our death penalty, I agree some criminals rightfully deserve it given the nature of their crimes…but really works as a deterrent? I don’t think so, instead the sad implication is that if the death penalty is used against an innocent human been even if only one, then should be abolished. Lately DNA has proven that some innocent are in death raw and for some is too late to save them as been already executed. Then is when death penalty becomes an inhumane un justice.
    Also concerns me that our Constitution Amendment VIII reads: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, “no cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”. Are we abiding it?

  4. confidential says:

    Can we just for a second put ourselves in the place of a man/woman that is innocent but erroneously tried and goes to be executed what this human been is put thru…? “cruel and unusual punishment” This is the reason that I am not for the death penalty.

  5. Outsider says:

    As is typical of most pieces opposing the death penalty, no mention is ever made of the victims and how they suffered what anyone would consider cruel and unusual punishment. Children are raped and murdered, women are tortured and used for unspeakable acts, while some murder others in heinous ways leaving one to conclude they are irreparable psychopaths. One thing is certain about capital punishment: once executed, the murderer will never kill again, which alone is justification enough to continue it.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Agreed that there are evil people breathing air they don’t deserve. But look at my post above and tell me who is so infallible as to judge them guilty beyond doubt? You? Me? Some cop or Politician DA?

      If they are caught red-handed, (good term!) they should face the ultimate penalty at the level of depravity they metered out to their victims. But all of you right-wingers claim to hate the bureaucracies inherent in any Government. And the Criminal Justice Industry in America today is about the biggest bureaucracy out there. So to claim it possesses an infallibility which is enough to kill in our name is not exactly a good indication of your sides consistency. In fact I believe it is indicative of a typical right-wing one-sided display of total partisan bullshit.

  6. Steve Robinson says:

    Yep, here we go again, dialing up the fear level so that going to war again in the Middle East will seem like the only thing to do. The hawks tell us that we are stuck with the burden of being the world’s only superpower. But the fact is that all of our “friends” who should be taking up the fight against ISIS will continue to sit on the sidelines because they know that sooner rather than later we will do their dirty work for them–and leave things in a worse mess when we finally depart.
    Looking at the President’s face lately I am convinced that what he really wants to do is go to the UN and say to the Saudis, the Qataris, the Jordanians and the Turks: “Sorry, guys, but this is your fight, not ours. Get your own house in order, even if it means remaking borders, and when you figure it all out we’ll be happy to respond with a 21st century Marshall Plan. See you later.” But he can’t do it because the fearmongers have Americans convinced that those kidnappers and beheaders are crossing the Rio Grande as we speak.
    So, if I understand this correctly, the American people, who rate journalists on a par with used car salesmen, are ready to go to war to avenge the murder of … a couple of reporters. And ain’t that a kick in the head.

    • Outsider says:

      Face reading can be a tricky pursuit, Steve. When I see his face, I read ” I have a three o’clock tee time. I can’t wait for this presidency stuff to be over.”

  7. Retired FF says:

    Pierre,
    How do you even begin to compare the brutal murder of innocent hostages by radical terrorists to the death penalty of violent murderers in our country? Not anywhere near the same situation. What needs to be done in our country is not drag out the sentence for 20+ years costing us the taxpayers millions. As far as the US dealing with the radical terrorist, I say bomb the hell out of all of them and leave the wasteland to the winners. If we don’t do something now they will be knocking at our back and front door with their violence. Maybe then you will be writing an article blaming our leaders for not doing enough.

  8. Groot says:

    Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! How can you even mention capital punishment in the US and the beheading of innocents in the Middle East? If ever there was a false analogy, this is it. No state in the US still uses “Old Sparky”! I would like to see an apology written to both murdered hostages’ families and posted on this website. You should not even mention murdered innocents who are victims, in the same breath as murderers and rapists. By the way, the terrorists don’t just cut their heads off with a big sharp sword. They murder them like they slaughter live stock in that part of the world, with a small knife, drawn across the neck and then they rip their heads off. They treat them as sheep or goats and record the whole gory mess to further humiliate them and to terrorize the rest of us.

  9. ogrethetop says:

    Nice comparison, they kill folks just for being western culture, no trials, no jury or judge. Are legal system is the same way? do we publish us cutting the heads off inmates for the world to see? Pierre the 2 systems are nothing alike. I’ve never heard the US kidnapping and selling women, going after people just because of there religion. Force people to convert. But hey, just try and print this in the middle of isis held territory..

    The main difference is you can print a story like that in the US, plus you get a trial, your wife and kids don’t get kidnapped or raped.

  10. nomad says:

    There are indeed buddies because (a) we, America, created, trained and funded IS/ISIL/ISIS, and (b) some of those very beheadings were deliberately carried out by our very own clandestine operators to promote and stir up propaganda for war. The American taxpayers fund the military industrial complex and their children die fighting the manufactured wars while the warmongers not only profit, but back slap each other and congratulate themselves on their ability to manipulate the gullible public who are brainwashed into believing these acts of war showcase American “exceptionalism.” They don’t. They showcase America not as the world police, but as a mafia thug organization, butcher, executioner, and mercenary killer doing the dirty deeds for so-called pious and gentrified countries pretending their society is some “utopian” civilization….they’re not.

    Interesting video debunking the US Foley beheading video by showing and comparing the two Foleys – the real Foley, the journalist, and the fake Foley in the propaganda video put out by the US govt.

    Will the REAL James Foley Please Stand Up!!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts08e4BghVg

  11. Dudley Sharp says:

    Pierre:

    There are obvious moral distinctions between the state executing murderers, as a matter of justice, and Isis murdering innocents, as a matter of injustice.

  12. JIM R. says:

    TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO BE EXECUTED FOR SOMETHING YOU DIDNT DO GET THE BOOK Wolf Whistle by Wm. Bradford Huie Unfortunatly it will cost you 160$ for a paperback book I bought for 50 cents back in the 60s

  13. m&m says:

    I told you. No guts. A true liberal.

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