Collateral damage is a crime

With the execution of Kelly Gissendaner recently in Georgia and many others waiting on death row, we are seeing executions being rushed, not only on the mainland but elsewhere. Death sentences were also rushed in Afghanistan on October 3d, with the bombing of an MSF hospital, killing 12 staff members and 10 patients, including children, and wounding 37 people. Both Kelly Gissendaner and the MSF hospital executions were justified under the same ideology.

It did not matter that this hospital in Kunduz was the only running hospital in the North East of the country. It was hectic at the hospital in the past weeks because of the battles between the Taliban forces and the Afghan military. Of course these battles sent many civilians, men, women and children to this hospital. MSF rightly treats everyone regardless of their origin: Taliban, military, and civilian casualties. This principle of equal treatment has been questioned in past decades with invasions, dehumanization campaigns and the criminalization of humane and compassionate actions.

The bombing of the MSF hospital by US Air Force is a moral failure and a crime, and yet the immediate response by US and Afghan authorities was to make it appear as normal collateral damage. They sent all their “thoughts and prayers” while asserting their legitimate role of deciding who may live and who must die, to borrow from Achille Mbembe.

At the time of the announced precise and clean war, the death toll of civilians, women, children and healers is rising. The drone program has already proven to be in the logic of an arbitrary decision of who may live and who must die. The collateral damages were in the hundreds and still unaccounted for; the drone program is the warrant of peace, they say.

This ideology that justifies these crimes runs on contradictions; it legitimates deterritorialization of arbitrary death sentences while claiming the restoration of peace.

Let’s bring a poem by Pramila Venkateswaran to examine this modern ethical and moral depravity:

Between Good and Evil

Dark blossoms wither on healthy soil,
indigo embracing light cannot be pried apart.

Ecological activists turn terrorists, good Samaritans-
turned-politicians walk off with money saved for the poor.

Peace lovers during war execute prisoners without trial.
We throw bombs, then food, on the same piece of land.

Violent Hindus desire a “pure” country of Hindus.
Each political party sounds like its rival.

Sense is nonsense is sense. Every exhortation
means its opposite and not: Morality is a crapshoot.


(Photo Credit: Medium / Victor J. Blue)

Georgia did not listen: They killed her.

Kelly Gissendaner at her theology graduation ceremony

They did not listen; they killed Kelly Gissendaner at a state prison in Jackson, Georgia, Wednesday, September 30, early in the morning.

She is the first woman executed in Georgia since 1945. Her execution was postponed after the lethal liquid was declared improper for killing because it was too cloudy. This decision was made after a series of botched executions, that left the condemned to death screaming and shaking for too long before dying. Just a reminder that the death penalty is first a violent act committed by the state.

All her appeals for clemency based on numerous testimonies that she changed her life were denied and early Wednesday morning Kelly Gissendaner received shots to die.

Now it is the turn of Richard Glossip in Oklahoma. His execution was stayed just before he was going to be executed by lethal injection. He was accused of a hired murder. Many elements have been assembled to assert that Richard Glossip is most likely innocent and was set up by the actual murderer who denounced him for a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty for himself.

None of this matters. The sentence was confirmed, and the delay is only due to the fear that he was going to be another botched execution because of the injection.

Everything was arranged so this little dirty business could go on, they even turn off the microphones, which is allowed since the last incident, so the torture-victim will not be heard.

They want blood at all price, and as Sister Helen Prejean explained, “The system in our criminal justice system, and particularly the administration of the death penalty, is so corrupt, it is so messed up.”

The eye for an eye law outweighs innocence or rehabilitation; that is not justice!

This cynical game must cease. No technology or protocol will change the fact that the death penalty is nothing other than a violent and arrogant form of oppression and has nothing to do with crime reduction or with reparation for victims’ families. It exacerbates violence in society and reinforces the process of dehumanization, adding to economic, racial and gendered forms of dehumanization. As some states are abolishing the death penalty, others are accelerating a kill-them-all policy.

It is time to stop the death penalty!


(Photo Credit: Ann Borden / The Emory Wheel)

The death penalty is violent, unjust and should be abolished

Last week, with almost no debate, the Utah State Senate adopted a bill, 18 – 10, that will allow the use of the firing squad, if drugs were to be unavailable 30 days before scheduled execution. Utah used the firing squad in 2010 to execute one person. Wyoming is examining a similar legislation. The 32 states that still have the death penalty are now looking at this method of the past to continue executing people currently on death row.

In the spirit of innovation, the lethal injection was introduced to remedy the question of suffering in the application of the death penalty, ignoring all kinds of emotional suffering. With the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, lethal injection was developed after the veterinarian techniques of euthanasia and was first experimented in Texas in 1984. This method carried the promise of modernity with the help of medical-technology imagery, making the death penalty appear different than in China, Iran or Saudi Arabia, some of the other major countries using the death penalty.

In the United States the delusional belief that there is a method of killing that could be “humane” with no suffering is reinforced by the populist imperialist discourse. Supporters of lethal injection pretended that it was humane because of the anesthetic that is injected first. This reflects a limited view on what suffering means. Nonetheless, a study published in The Lancet recognized that the procedure for killing inmates was less rigorous than those recommended by the Veterinary Medical Association. The concentration of anesthesia received by the condemned during the lethal injection was lower than required for surgery in 88% of the cases. In 43% the level was so low that the inmates must have had awareness of the asphyxiation, burning and the massive muscle cramping which are the three episodes that the products used for lethal injection entail. With the blockage of delivery of some of these drugs by European laboratories on humanitarian grounds, States began playing the sorcerer’s apprentice at the expense of respect for human dignity.

In 2014 the number and intensity of botched executions attracted more national and international attention. In Arizona, Joseph Wood was pronounced dead one hour and fifty-seven minutes after the beginning of the process. In Oklahoma, Michael Wilson screamed that his body was burning. As a result many states passed “secrecy laws” to allow themselves not to disclose the nature or sources of the drugs they were going to use.

And now a number of states are considering and passing laws to allow former methods that used to be considered barbaric, from the firing squad and the gas chamber to the electric chair. All these methods demonstrate that there is a distance between justice and the death penalty, as the executioner and the penal system are removed from the actual death of the prisoner.

Last spring, the American Academy of Sciences published a study showing that 4.1% of the people on death row are innocent. Consider the recent killing of Troy Davis whose prosecution consisted of incoherence and inconsistency. Nevertheless, the State asserted its dominating power, using the racially vindicating desire of vengeance of the family of the victim as Troy Davis was African American and the victim was white. As with Kelly Gissendaner whose execution is still pending, Davis’ sentence demonstrated that the state is not concerned with a true notion of justice or rehabilitation but rather is the diehard instrument of populist domination within an increasingly inegalitarian society.

Some states have freed themselves from the death penalty. The death penalty should simply be outlawed at the federal level, instead of leaving populist assemblies free to chose more heinous instruments of death. As Cesare Beccharia wrote in Of Crimes and Punishments in 1764, “If I prove that this sentence is neither useful nor necessary, I would have caused the triumph of humanity”.

(Image Credit: The Atlantic / ycaradec / Flickr)

Tell Georgia not to kill Kelly Gissendaner!


Kelly Gissendaner at her 2011 graduation at Arrendale State Prison

In Georgia, Kelly Gissendaner was going to be the 16th woman to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. Six women have been put to death in Texas. All the executions have occurred in Southern states. While California boasts the highest rate of death sentence for women, thus far none have been executed.

Kelly Gissendaner could have been the first woman executed in Georgia since 1945.

She was accused of killing her husband in 1997. She didn’t actually kill her husband; she asked her boyfriend at the time to do it. He was sentenced to life in prison with possibility of parole after 25 years. She was convicted of “malice murder” in 1998 and sentenced to death.

Both judge and media presented her as a greedy witch who had masterminded the murder. The plea bargain deal made with her boyfriend in exchange for his testimony against her did not bother too many people.

This case confirms that the death penalty carries the images of sin offerings.

Gissendaner’s first scheduled execution was postponed because of a winter storm on February 25th. The execution was rescheduled for Monday evening, and this time the executioner realized that the drug for the lethal injection was not going to work “quickly and properly” as it appeared cloudy. The recent agony of prisoners in Oklahoma after botched executions had brought international attention, shedding light on the brutality of the penal system of the United States. Nobody wanted to have more publicity added to this already disturbing judicial proceeding.

During the almost 17 years of waiting for a possible execution, Kelly Gissendaner went to school and completed a theology degree. More importantly, she changed her vision on life and expressed sincere remorse. She became a teacher who helped fellow inmates and was qualified as a role model by former wardens. Twenty-four people along with her three children begged for clemency to no avail. Her appeals were all denied. After the first attempt to kill her, more people took action to spare her life. Four hundred clergy sent letters. On February 27, the New York Times published an article, with moving testimony on her favor of a renowned theologian.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of an eye for an eye, the attorney for her husband’s family declared that the death sentence was appropriate for the crime. What she has done since is not worth considering.

These declarations and delays remind us of the demonic dimension of the death penalty; why not kill the condemned immediately if redemption is unattainable. If the vengeance in the death sentence includes that the victim of this revenge must dig her own grave year after year, it just confirms the impossibility of this sentence in a human society. Thus, her execution should be judged as malice murder.

Gender plays a particular role in this case. Kelly Gissendaner appeared as a monster because she transgressed the heterosexual role of the wife and the mother. The 16 women who have been executed since 1973 also transgressed this invisibly present boundary, making their crimes even more appealing for the execution of a death sentence.

The violent pulse of this case demonstrates that there is no equality in sentencing. All this works as a ritual that dehumanizes the condemned. It bans all emotions and allows every one that is involved in the death penalty process to ignore his or her own responsibility in the death of a human being, explains Denis Salas in The Will to Punish. The saga of the chronicle of Kelly Gissendaner’s sadistic delayed execution does not serve justice. It adds to the trivialization of populist moralistic biased judgments with no shame for putting to death a fellow woman.

The only way to remedy this cruel and barbarous punishment is to demand “pure and simple abolition of the death penalty.” as Victor Hugo argued in 1848. But first, Kelly Gissendaner must not be killed!


(Image Credit: United Methodist Church / Ann Borden)