Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A hanging in Singapore 

(via Blackberry)

I write this on the flight from Melbourne to Adelaide, having just digested
my daily dose of Aussie news. The papers here are obsessed with the looming
execution of Australian national Nguyen Tuong Van. The government of
Singapore is going to hang him tomorrow for having brought a large amount of
heroin into that sparkling, efficient, fascist city.

Australia, tough as it is, has abolished the death penalty. The letters to
the editor reflect a national revulsion at the very idea of retributive
executions. Capital punishment has none of the populist appeal here that
characterizes American attitudes.

I wonder, though, whether Americans would react to this event much
differently than Australians have. Singapore, a close neighbor of
Australia, is going to *hang* an Australian citizen for carrying drugs in
transit through that country. The Singaporeans have applied their law to
Nguyen without compromise, even denying requests that their death row
facility waive its "no contact" rule so that Nguyen's mother can give him a
final hug. This last bit has prompted a specific protest from Australia's
foreign minister Alexander Downer, who says that he is "having nightmares"
over the Nguyen case.

Then there is the controversy over Singapore's 74 year-old hangman, Darshan
Singh. He has said that he has been sacked, and has used the Nguyen case to
observe that you don't want some inexperienced hangman measuring the rope,
else Nguyen might "flop around." He is, in effect, arguing that such a high
profile case requires Singapore's top talent, and that he should therefore
be rehired.

Wierdly, the government of Singapore denies that Singh was fired at all.
Still, one of the points of press interest is the suspense over who will do
the deed, a subject that the American media never discusses.

Not surprisingly, Singapore doesn't just sling a rope over a tree and kick
the stool over. There is apparently some art to calculating the precise
length of rope needed to break the prisoner's neck when the trapdoor opens.
This requires weighing Nguyen on the eve of execution - apparently Singh is
too proud just to eyeball the guy and estimate. No, there is a whole
formula involved. If you have ever been to Singapore, you would be
surprised if there weren't.

So, how would Americans react if, say, the Mexicans proposed to hang an
American caught with some cocaine while changing planes in Mexico City?
With outrage, I would guess, notwithstanding the popularity of capital
punishment in the U.S. Remember a few years ago when the American press
went crazy when Singapore merely caned that American kid who vandalized
somebody's car? I daresay we would react much as Australia has to the
Nguyen execution.

Now for the inflammatory part: There is something to admire in Singapore's
application of the death penalty. They execute their criminals openly and
notoriously, figuring that the medium is the message. We hide our
executions from public view, sanitize them for peace of mind, and guard the
identities of the executioners because, perhaps, they are not so openly
proud of their function as Singapore's Mr. Singh. Singapore's system
achieve's two objectives at once: it maximizes the deterrant effect of the
execution and it forces the government to take a moral position in its
defense. Our hidden executions do neither.

Yes, I support the death penalty in at least three situations: kidnapping,
the killing of law enforcement officers and prison guards, and terrorism.
The first two are to leave ruthless people (kidnappers and people in a
position to kill a cop or prison guard) with something further to lose. The
second is because I believe that terrorism is war or insurrection. But I
would televise our executions, and I would require them to be every bit as
brutal as Singapore. If we are to sanction the taking of life in
retribution, we as citizens should have the moral fortitude to live with the
unvarnished consequences of our political opinions.


By Anonymous Patrick Taw, at Wed Nov 30, 05:38:00 PM:

As an american, I strongly support the death penalty for crimes such as rape, kidnapping, murder (of anyone), massive theft (plunging people into poverty type of theft) or repeated violent behavior.
Drug traffic in Asia is a capital crime because of the historic problems associated with drugs. China lost many people and land to the British from Opium. Drug lords in the Golden triangle threaten the stability of the governments. Drugs are precursors to more violent crimes against society. Asians are much more practical in regards to crime and punishment. In Hong Kong, an American woman was executed for poisioning her husband. She tried to plead insanity, but the court of HK goes by the crime committed.  

By Blogger DWPittelli, at Wed Nov 30, 05:54:00 PM:

I assume you meant kidnapping followed by murder. I would add robbery-murder, since that is likewise subject to the criminal's rational analysis in a way that crimes of "passion" are not; torture-murder, multiple murder, and murder by people already serving life (or long) sentences, whether in prison or on escape.

I think execution should be public and painless, and preferably more visually effective than lethal injection. Hanging sometimes leads to slow strangulation, and thus to opposition to the death penalty and a broader reduction in respect for the "cruel" justice system. An explosive-packed steel helmet would make for outrageously violent television, but would unquestionably be so quick as to be painless.  

By Blogger irishspy, at Wed Nov 30, 06:09:00 PM:

While I support the death penalty for a limited number of crimes (premeditated murder, murder in the commission of another felony, treason), I think Singapore goes too far in its application here. While drug dealers are no better than poisoners, the defendent was merely acting as a "mule," with the extenuating circumstance that he was trying to save his brother. While he should serve time for this, killing him for it is wrong. The Law untempered by Mercy is not Justice: It is Tyranny.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Nov 30, 07:36:00 PM:

we as citizens should have the moral fortitude to live with the
unvarnished consequences of our political opinions

Oh TH, that would never fly in this country. Consequences are the great third rail of modern politics :) Throw enough words or federal money at them and they magically disappear.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Wed Nov 30, 08:20:00 PM:

For your information and education.

Most times hangings were carefully carried out by the "Hangman", sometimes by throwing a rope over a tree limb.

Especially if you were caught stealing cattle or horses in Texas.

Papa Ray
West Texas

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 30, 08:40:00 PM:

as i remember, most people thought the young man deserved the sentence handed down in Singapore for vandalizing a car.

caneing?,... minor.

hanging, caneing, if that is what the sentence is for the crimes committed in their country, so be it.

you are right, it was the press that was upset with the caneing sentence, not most US citizens.  

By Blogger Jimmy K., at Wed Nov 30, 09:43:00 PM:

Wild West Tech on the History Channel ran an episode dealing with the hangmans noose and body weight, seems if the person and length of rope are not in sync you can either have the person choke to death or jerk the head off the body.
Execution Tech.
Aired on Tuesday, April 6 @ 10:00PM ET/PT

Journey back to the days when justice was swifter than a saloon girl on a Saturday night and examine the horrors of human design that brought terror to the Old West. Sheriffs and judges, desperate to stop the growing onslaught of outlaws, needed grisly technologies to punish and deter murderers, rapists, and rustlers. Join the crowd of onlookers who gathered at the grisly gallows to witness a man gaining infamy at one end of the rope--and sometimes, immortality at the other. Host: Keith Carradine. TV14 L
Sound familiar.
Jimmy K.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Dec 01, 12:00:00 AM:

1)How can you support the taking of another life? How another human being would ever feel the need to do that astounds me? Perhaps it would be more appropriate if you passed on your observation to others using a series of grunts, sitting around a camp fire and sharpening sticks, instead of using the tools of human development such as writing and bothering us with your barbarian opinions.

2) How can you dare to express an opinion on how you think 'Americans' would react? With such a large and diverse country as the USA such a discussion is obviously a waste of time. Grow up.

No reply needed to this posting, I doubt by the time you have read this you would have had any further experiences that could have turned you into more of a human being.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Dec 01, 01:35:00 AM:

Last Anonymous Guy,

In your second paragraph, you denounce me for generalizing about how "Americans" might feel, given the diversity of the United States. I certainly did that, just as I also generalized about Australians, which I'm sure also offended you. Yet notwithstanding your commitment to diversity of opinion (which commitment is so offended by my rank generalizations), you are "astounded" that anybody might hold a different view of capital punishment than you. Indeed, you consider me subhuman for holding that view. Why? Far more people in the world support capital punishment than oppose it, notwithstanding the opposition of OECD countries more "enlightened" on this issue than most American states.

My own position on the subject is substantially to the left of most Americans, who reiterate their support for capital punishment at the polls every chance they get. I am opposed to it, except in two contexts. The first is that I believe it needs to be reserved as a final punishment for those who would kill law enforcement officers. If, for example, a prisoner is in jail for life, what prevents him from killing a prison guard other than the possibility of execution? If somebody has taken a hostage and is thereby looking at a lifetime in prison, what would deter the killing of that hostage other than a possible sentence more severe than lifetime incarceration? I oppose capital punishment for even multiple murders and other heinous crimes, and that puts me well to the left of most Americans on this issue. Oops. I generalized again.

My second exception is terrorism, which I believe is akin to insurrection. Everybody, with the possible example of hopeless romantics, believe that insurrection is punishable with death.  

By Anonymous Pasquin, at Thu Dec 01, 01:36:00 AM:

I am not sure I am “enough of a human being” for Anonymous to respect my opinion, yet this “barbarian” will “dare to express an opinion” and indeed feels compelled to respond to his leftist lunacy, er I mean his bold challenge to answer his “astounding” question of how any human could ever feel the need to take another life.

Like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Harry S. Truman, FDR, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, St. Joan of Arc, John F. Kennedy, King David, Moses, and yes, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and even a fellow named Kofi Annan -- and hundreds of other world leaders throughout history who have occasionally stood up to tyranny, murder and genocide; and like tens of millions of policemen, soldiers, sailors and Marines who have carried out their orders (myself among them), I consider the defense of innocent human life and the preservation of civilization to be appropriate causes for the taking of guilty human life. And yes, the trafficking in heroin meets that definition.

Singapore, for all its “fascism” is honest and open in executing its justice in public. I applaud them for it.

And to answer your question, if my fellow American would meet a similar fate in Mexico City, for a similar crime, I would feel the same way.  

By Anonymous Michael Gill, at Thu Dec 01, 02:01:00 AM:

A poll released in Australia today states that 47% of Australians favour Van's execution whilst 46% are against.

Practically all journalists are against it and are pathetically whingeing and whining and giving little credence to the opposing point of view.

As far as I'm concerned, a drug trafficer caught with enough heroin for 26,000 hits is effectively a serial murderer as multiple deaths are assured from such quantities.

I for one support the Singapore government's right to execute such an offender when there is no doubt of guilt. In this case the drugs were strapped to his body.  

By Anonymous Pasquin, at Thu Dec 01, 02:31:00 AM:

Legally, Singapore's sovereignty justifies its right to carry out its own laws within its own borders.

Ethically, mass murder in all of its forms, including large scale heroin trafficking (i.e., accepting cash for mortally poisoning fellow human beings), warrants society's ultimate sanction in defense of its own existence.

Practically, anyone who chooses to mule large quantities of narcotics through Singapore, given its notoriously strict and efficient law enforcement, is effectively choosing to gamble with his own life.

Nguyen committed suicide.  

By Blogger Chris Lawrence, at Thu Dec 01, 02:33:00 AM:

I would only observe, in passing, that the United States retains capital punishment because the elite-mass disconnect on the death penalty is narrower than in other societies; in many countries that have abolished the death penalty, it retains popular support but is only advocated by "fringe" parties.

For what it's worth, I don't think the death penalty is justified in this case; then again, it's not because I am universally opposed to it (although my views are around TigerHawk's on the death penalty), but rather because I don't think the conduct should have been illegal in the first place.

Then again, I'm not the hereditary dictator (I mean popularly-elected president, who just happens to be the old president's son and immediate successor) of Singapore, so what do I know?  

By Blogger Ashley, at Fri Dec 02, 01:35:00 AM:

DPIC Innocence Lister Jonathan Treadaway is implicated by DNA tests in the sodomy and murder of a three-year-old girl. Read more...  

By Anonymous jonathan swift, at Tue Sep 26, 02:23:00 PM:

im an american, not familiar with singapore, but whether he was a mule or dealer, he was still prt of the chain from prodution to user end, so hes just a guilty as any along the line. i dont believe in eath penalty for any other than for those who take a life, on the grounds of it being legal killing, to rid society of those who would kill again if given the chance, whether it being a fellow inmate while in prison, or arranging for the death of others outide prison thru intermediaries, and of course, as just punishment for taking a life. however, in this case, im sure the man knew what the consequences of his act would be, so, i dont fault the penalty, but rather the manner it was carried out.  

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