Another Perspective

No to the Death Penalty

Anyone remember the aftermath of Castro's takeover?

By 1.4.07

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I have never heard anyone else mention this, and it surprises me. When Fidel Castro took over Cuba, I was a boy. Within a year or two, it was obvious the Castro regime meant us no good, that it was, in fact, Communist. American television began to show -- frequently began to show -- firing squad executions from Cuba.

The Castroites would line their victims up in front of ditches or individual graves, the victims often having been made to dig their own graves in their last moments. The condemned man, placed at the head of the grave, would be shot, would fold abruptly at the waist, and fall into the ground, saving his executioners the trouble, I suppose.

I remember in particular one condemned man shown writing a last letter to his wife, standing up, his knee raised as a writing pad, wondering how he could keep his hand from trembling. This man insisted on giving the order to "fire" himself, and he was shown doing that, dying all the same, folding backwards into his grave.

EVEN NOW, IT MAKES ME CRINGE to remember this. We were shown these scenes a lot on network TV in the days long before cable and the Internet. It perhaps testifies to the solidarity of the U.S. ruling class at the time, that the government should have one opinion of Cuba, and that broadcasters held the same view and did all they could to reinforce the official view.

Not that the networks lacked for material. According to Cuba Archive, Castro has executed 5,775 people by firing squad.

These earliest scenes of judicial death formed my first impressions of the death penalty, and that impression has not changed. It is horrible. I oppose any state having the right to take a life. Yes, I know the United States constitution "explicitly contemplates" (as it is always said) the death penalty. And I know that majorities of the electorate favor it.

The so-called "humane" ways of execution do not improve the process. The rituals that surround the death penalty, whether of the "placing of the needle" or strapping into a chair or clamping into a gas-proof chamber or ascending a gallows, are ghastly, all of them, and should not see the light of civilization.

SO WHEN A FRIEND AND FELLOW WRITER came to dinner last week and asked me if I had watched the video of Saddam Hussein's execution, a video he had watched with some satisfaction, I said, "No. And I won't."

Not that it was hard to find. A link to it came up on my Comcast home page, first thing. I see that, within a day, a nine-year-old Pakistani child managed to kill himself, imitating the Saddam hanging.

Doesn't that say enough?

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.