Iraq

Where Did Barzan Go?

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The botched hanging of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother and former head (no pun intended) of the Iraqi tyrant's secret police, was like so gross, not to mention troubling for anyone who still had any confidence in the current government's competence. But it also has its lighter aspects:

"When the trapdoor opened, I realized that I was looking at the rope swinging freely, and I asked myself, 'Where did Barzan go?' " said Jaafar al-Moussawi, who was chief prosecutor at the trial that ended with the death sentences for Mr. Hussein, Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Bandar. He added: "I thought that somehow he had gotten loose. So I moved forward toward the pit and looked down, and saw the convict Barzan lying on the ground without his head."

Like the complaints that Saddam's execution was insufficiently dignified, the flinching at the separation of Ibrahim's body from his head is both understandable and strange. If a guillotine had been the chosen means of execution, presumably this outcome would have been unobjectionable. And then the Iraqis would not have had to worry about calculating the correct drop for a given height and weight to avoid asphyxiation on the one hand and decapitation on the other. The guillotine was designed to be an especially humane method of execution that would avoid such problems. Given Saudi penal practices, I assume there's no special Muslim objection to dismemberment of criminals, but I could be wrong.

NEXT: More Tales of Prosecutoral Excess

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  1. Saddam Hussein’s half-brother and former head of the Iraqi tyrant’s secret police

    So, um, what’s the problem here?

  2. The Times story also had that the two condemned wore orange jumpsuits (a la Gitmo fashion). So they could have pulled a Nick Berg on the two I suppose.

  3. Actually hanging someone is a real art. Too much weight and their head comes off, too little weight and the neck doesn’t break and they stangle to death. Fact is not many countries hang anymore and it is hard to find someone who knows how to do it. They should have just shot them and been done with it.

  4. Actually hanging someone is a real art. Too much weight and their head comes off, too little weight and the neck doesn’t break and they stangle to death

    Very true… From this Chicago Sun-Times piece today

    That’s right. There’s a thing called a “drop chart,” or a “table of drops,” and it gauges how much rope should be used when one is hanging a fellow human being.

    According to capital punishment expert Richard Clark, there are four methods of hanging:

    1. The short drop, in which the condemned individual drops a few inches and his own weight causes strangulation.

    2. Suspension hanging, in which the condemned person is jerked upward using a crane or pulley.

    3. The standard drop, in which the condemned person is plunged about 4 to 6 feet.

    4. The more “sophisticated” long drop, in which the condemned person’s weight is taken into account and the executioner attempts to gauge just the right amount of rope that should be used, in order to facilitate a quick break of the neck

    I never imagined hanging someone was so complicated.

  5. situational ethics aside (“because he was a real bad man, grusomely botching his execution is okay”), it shows incompetence

    here’s a drop chart I googled off of the state of Washington’s DOC:

    DOC 490.200

    TITLE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

    EFFECTIVE DATE 8/10/01

    PAGE NUMBER 9 of 11

    1. The gallows area trap door(s) and release mechanisms will be inspected for proper operation.

    2. A determination of the proper amount of drop of the ISDP through the trap door will be made. The following standard military execution drop chart will be used:

    WEIGHT(Pounds) DROP DISTANCE

    120 8’1″

    125 7’10”

    130 7’7″

    135 7’4″

    140 7’1″

    145 6’9″

    150 6’7″

    155 6’6″

    160 6’4″

    165 6’2″

    170 6’0″

    175 5’11”

    180 5’9″

    185 5’7″

    190 5’6″

    195 5’5″

    200 5’4″

    205 5’2″

    210 5’1″

    220 and over 5’0″

    3. Equipment

    a. Hood – The hood will be of neutral color, the outer surface of rough materials, split at the open end so that it will come well down over the chest and back.

    b. Collapse Board – A board will be provided for use in case of the collapse of the ISDP.

    c . Restraints – Restraints will be used to ensure that the hands and arms of the ISDP are securely held to his/her front and sides.

    d. Rope -The rope will be of manila hemp, at least 3/4 inch and not more than 1 ? inches in diameter and approximately 30 feet in length. The rope will be soaked and then stretched while drying to eliminate any spring, stiffness or tendency to coil. The knot will be treated with wax, soap or clear oils ensuring a smooth sliding action

    http://www.doc.wa.gov/Policies/showFile.aspx?name=490200

    that what’s being passed off as the Iraqi government can’t pull off an execution without uglyness (guys in ski masks talking shit to the condemned, unauthorized video getting loose on the w3, pulling off a guys head by accident) makes them look like inept quislings held in thrall to a death cult

  6. There were war criminals from the Nuremburg trials who were sent swinging by U.S. forces. In some cases the hangmen didn’t get the drop right, and instead of a quick broken neck the bastards dangled and strangled. Back home most of our capital criminals met their fate in the electric chair, so experts in the hanging trade were a bit thin in our ranks. The British sniffed at our efforts as amateurish. Some skeptics wonder if the “mistakes” weren’t on purpose, meant to increase the Nazis’ suffering.

    I don’t know what the Iraqis’ excuse would be. They used hanging as a regular punishment, didn’t they? Decapitation is one of the possible outcomes of a “long drop” hanging, especially if one doesn’t figure the drop correctly.

    I expect that they didn’t shoot Saddam and Co. because it would have provided them with “soldiers’ deaths.”

    Kevin

  7. “When the trapdoor opened, I realized that I was looking at the rope swinging freely, and I asked myself, ‘Where did Barzan go?'”

    What would have been really funny would have been a dry run with a bungee cord.

  8. Good riddance. But it won’t change a damn thing on the ground.

  9. Why is decapitation regarded as a “botched” hanging? In my view, decapitation is the best outcome in a hanging because the victim dies very quickly.

  10. capital punishment expert Richard Clark

    Hopefully this guy is more of an expert than Fred Leuchter. And I still think that the only botched execution is one where the guy is still alive at the end.

  11. The allies screwed up several of the hangings of the Nuremburg defendents. First, a sympathetic guard allowed Goering to commit suicide. After the suicide was discovered, the authorities went bizerk and decided everyone was going to be hung that night to prevent suicides. Von Ribbentrop’s head came clean off because of a botched hanging. It was very grusome. I guess Sphere and the other defendents who avoided death were left to clean up the mess. Not that they didn’t deserve it or anything.

  12. If a guillotine had been the chosen means of execution, presumably this outcome would have been unobjectionable.

    And in fact, if a guillotine had been used, and the head had only come halfway off, people would be upset about that. And rightly so…

    Personally, I find it hillarious that people who think it’s ever OK to kill another human being in cold blood get indignant when the condemned are taunted (who’s never been taunted?) or the execution method is even more effective than planned.

  13. Not about the execution, but about Iraq in general…….

    I think its time for Bush to play the Timetable Card. Either set a timetable or use the possibility of such as a bargining chip with secular nationalist insurgents.

    A timetable would reduce the Iraqi public support for attacks on US and allied forces, and give moderate (a relative term) armed sunni arab groups an incentive to participate in the political process and cooperate with the Iraqi government and coalition.

    http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/250.php?nid=&id=&pnt=250&lb=brme

    From the website:

    Perhaps more significant, approximately the same number-78%-believe that “If the new Iraqi government were to tell the United States to withdraw all of its forces within six months,” the United States would refuse to do so. Again, this view is held by a majority of all groups-64 percent of Kurds, 76 percent of Shias and 96 percent of Sunnis.

    The belief that the United States plans to have permanent bases in Iraq is highly correlated with support for attacks on U.S.-led forces. Among those who believe this, 68 percent approve of attacks. Among those who believe that the United States plans to withdraw once Iraq is stabilized, only 34 percent approve of attacks. Beliefs about whether the United States would respond to an Iraqi government request to withdraw follow the same pattern.

    There is also some evidence that if the United States were to make a commitment to withdraw according to a timetable, support for attacks would diminish. The 61 percent who said they approved of attacks were asked: “If the United States made a commitment to withdraw from Iraq according to a timetable, would you feel less supportive of attacks against US-led forces or would it make no difference?” Most of these-36% (of the full sample)-said that they would feel less supportive, while 23 percent said it would make no difference. Those saying they would feel less supportive included 43 percent of the Shias and 42 percent of the Sunnis.

  14. B, has a head only come halfway off when the guillotine was used? I thought it was fairly foolproof. No second tries necessary ala Mary Queen of Scots.

  15. Fact is not many countries hang anymore and it is hard to find someone who knows how to do it.

    Those countries that do, such as Iran, appear to deliberately use the slower methods of hanging. As did the British for many years prior to the mid-19th century. Remember, nobility in Britian had the privilege of being beheaded instead; hanging was too demeaning. They also did all of this in public, as Iran still does. Nothing keeps the peasants (or gays, fornicators, drunkards, etc. in Iran) in line better than watching one of their peers slowly strangle to death in front of a large crowd.

    It’s absurd to argue about whether a hanging was “botched” when the execution method is specifically designed to cause maximum suffering and humiliation (with the least gore or necessary equipment). Especially when much more efficient and rapid methods are available.

    The allies screwed up several of the hangings of the Nuremburg defendents. First, a sympathetic guard allowed Goering to commit suicide.

    One of the things that disturbs me the most about the death penalty is the hypocrisy of arguing about methods. The Chinese are at least consistent; they use a single bullet to the base of the skull. Death is immediate. It’s also a little messy; I guess that’s why we don’t use that here. (We let the state kill its citizens, but we’re too sensitive to see their brains splattered all over. Weird.)

    But if we want a “dignified”, painless execution, why not give the inmate a bottle of barbituates along with his/her last meal? If I was sentenced to death, I’d prefer that. We don’t do that, because it’s important that the state be able to make the symbolic gesture of murdering the convict. It’s an exercise of naked force and a reminder that the state is always more powerful than the individual. As long as we cling to this barbaric system, I’ll continue to oppose it regardless of circumstance.

  16. Hangings were regularly botched in the U.S. when it was widely practiced. Then, the dubious decision to electrocute people came forth, despite the fact that it is a method even more subject to variability in outcome. I always thought the guillotine was probably best, but then I heard of accounts where the French left some guy with his head halfway cut off, but still alive, so they hauled the blade up and dropped it a few times more.

    With explosives being so reliable now, maybe just wrapping the condemned’s neck in a plastic explosives scarf would work consistently well, but I suppose that’s a bit messy. Firing squad with large caliber weapons probably is the best method.

  17. Yeah, Nat, the Chinese probably do it best. They have had more practice (are drug addicts still receiving bullet therapy?), so it makes sense they would have developed more efficient methods, and I’m sure there aren’t any legal impediments to having other inmates clean up the mess.

  18. Who is this Albert Sphere of whom you speak?

  19. Why not just put a nitrogen-gas mask on the condemned?

  20. I don’t see how this is anything to lose one’s head over.

  21. Actually hanging someone is a real art. Too much weight and their head comes off

    seriously, what’s the problem with that? does instant decapitation increase the suffering? i think not.

    i’m continually amazed at the trivial bullshit that preoccupies people… how does a popped off head translate to an incompetent (ok, more incompetent than usual) government? it just means that the error was on the side of humane execution.

    btw, nat, i’ve asked that same question time and again. the best answer i’ve gotten is that often the “recipients” have a strong drug tolerance and a supposedly fatal dosage could just leave them brain-damaged. now, that still doesn’t strike me as a good answer- after all, while the recipient is knocked out, you could administer a coup de grace in just about any way without them knowing what happened. think “surgery.”

  22. With explosives being so reliable now, maybe just wrapping the condemned’s neck in a plastic explosives scarf would work consistently well, but I suppose that’s a bit messy.

    They sometimes used to put bags of gunpowder around the necks of those who were being burnt at the stake. I guess this was intended to explode and give a more merciful end, but since gunpowder only explodes when it’s confined, it would have just burned rapidly and hurt like a bitch.

    My point is…uh…I forget. I hope it was profound.

  23. The guillotine was an “improvement” but not foolproof.

    I understand the aesthetic argument against having a head pop off, but surely that’s the direction in which to err.

    The squeamishness over this issue should not surprise. The US supports air campaigns that kill tens of thousands, and even chuckle at videos of cars crossing a bridge as it’s bombed. But, if we instead do it with rifles, that’s too “icky.”

    It’s so much simpler to argue over procedure than substance.

  24. from Wikipedia (I know it’s not a definitive source, but it’s quick and I have seen this info elsewhere):

    “In the case of decapitation [by guillotine], it sometimes took repeated blows to sever the head completely. The condemned or the family of the condemned would sometimes pay the executioner to ensure that the blade was sharp in order to provide for a quick and relatively painless death.”

  25. Von Ribbentrop’s head came clean off because of a botched hanging. It was very grusome.

    His execution was botched by numerous accounts, but in the other direction. He strangled. You can judge for yourself if you think the head was popped off. The rope crease can be seen under the left chin in the appropriate position, but there is no decapitation.

  26. I was just reading part of Speer’s Inside the Third Reich, specifically about his take on the Nuremberg trials. He didn’t mention having to clean up any messes, John 🙂

    Nuremberg is interesting, because it shows how hard it is to get all legalistic when you’re dealing with bad guys with their own nation-state. Any trial of this sort is going to be called a “show trial” by the winners–at least, it will be deemed thusly by people who oppose the result. Hussein’s trial was a mess, but that has as much to do with the mess that is the Iraqi government than with any actual improprieties. Nuremberg had a whole list of flaws, too, like the little one about ignoring the war crimes the Soviet Union committed while playing footsies with their totalitarian brethren (thanks, incidentally, to Nearly Headless Ribbentrop and Molotov Cocktail).

  27. I oppose the death penalty, with the exception of deposed despots. I think it is just too difficult to create a civil society out of the remnants of a despotism, as the deposed dictator sits just off stage, especially if he has been in power for some time, and the typical personality cult has arisen. Better to drive a stake through the heart of any notions of a comeback.

  28. There’s always exile in Saudi Arabia with a government stipend.

  29. I never imagined hanging someone was so complicated.

    At a party many years ago, one of the guests, the brother-in-law of the host, if I remember rightly, a Chiropractic student (we were all students of something then, for me it was engineering), explained to me how hanging worked (chiropractors may be quacks, but they do seem to have a pretty good grounding in the skeletal structure of the body; it’s just that whole “the source of every disease is…” some skeletal deally, thingy that gets me).

    Anyway, the thing is, the purpose of a “proper hanging” is by the proper length of drop and the proper placement of the noose and more particularly the knot, is to sever the spinal cord by causing the C-1 and C-2 vertebrae to slide across each other when the body drops and the right forces are applied to the neck. This is supposed to cause instantaneous death or at least unconsciousness.

    In fact it appears that the hangman rarely gets these calculations right. Too much and and the head is torn from the body; too little and the condemned simply slowly strangles to death. In either case he is in no position to complain.

  30. Neither Saddam nor his henchmen deserved a dignified execution or death, let alone a painless one. I can see no good reason to expend alot of effort in the matter. They should have just been trussed-up and thrown alive into a pit with a pack of wild dogs. Or maybe into one of those chipper-shredders they were so fond of.

  31. Implacable: Better yet, we should have tipped off the Shi’ites and Kurds as to the location of his spiderhole and stood back while they pulled a Mussolini.

  32. Those countries that do, such as Iran, appear to deliberately use the slower methods of hanging. As did the British for many years prior to the mid-19th century.

    In Neal Stephenson’s book Quicksilver, one of the main characters and his brother, as kids, make a regular living by getting criminals to pay them to grab onto their legs and pull during their hanging to make them strangle more quickly.

  33. “His execution was botched by numerous accounts, but in the other direction. He strangled. You can judge for yourself if you think the head was popped off. The rope crease can be seen under the left chin in the appropriate position, but there is no decapitation.”

    My mistake. Perhaps it was someone else’s head that almost came off. I know that one of the hangins, obviously not his, was very bloody and grusome. Good catch.

  34. Don’t people burn at the stake anymore?

  35. Maybe I made it up Pro, but I swear I read that somewhere. Oh well, the botched the hangings anyway if not in a bloody way.

  36. Russ 2000,

    Nah, preservatives make modern man impervious to burning at the stake. Little known fact.

  37. Barzan gives good head.

  38. “Barzan gives good head.”

    Well, he used to anyway.

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