Monday, April 21, 2008

Mr. Death and the Pope: Capital Punishment and Capitol Torture

...Or Which Is Cheaper - Lethal Injection or Waterboarding?

As everyone in America knows, death is not cheap: funerals rarely come with discounts and some of the remaining next of kin find themselves in debt. But how much does it cost to execute someone?

The Leuchter company's lethal-injection system, at $30,000, is the cheapest execution system the company sells. (Prices do not include installation.) The Leuchter electrocution system costs $35,000, and a Leuchter gallows would run about $85,000. More and more states are opting for Leuchter's $100,000 "execution trailer," which comes complete with a lethal-injection machine, a steel holding cell for the inmate, and separate areas for witnesses, chaplain, prison workers, and medical personnel. Leuchter's gas chambers cost nearly $200,000.

"When I was a kid," he says, "and used to go with my father to Massachusetts prisons, there was a story about another small kid, another prison worker's son, who once sat in the state's electric chair. Eleven years later he was killed in the same chair. He'd gotten mixed up in some murder. Anyway, a legend developed that if you sat in the chair, you'd die in it. Well, I sat in that chair too. And I didn't get electrocuted in it later. I sat in the chair and now I make electric chairs."

He smiles. "I created a new legend."

Susan Lehman, 1990, Atlantic Monthly

There is a documentary regarding Fred A. Leuchter titled Mr. Death, The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter (1999). It focused primarily on his involvement for the defense of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. (Trivia: Leuchter and his new bride at the time of his testimony for Zundel honeymooned at Auschwitz).

Very strange: I've googled Fred A. Leuchter and, while still possibly alive, there is no mention of his life after 1999.

And remember: those are 1990 prices.

Just in time for Pope Benedict's appearance in the U.S., the Supreme Court upheld the use of lethal injection in execution. So what did Benedict say on that topic? Well... nada. Of course, he upholds John-Paul's views on capital punishment, but he didn't say anything specifically damning on the subject. One interesting statement made about John-Paul and the death penalty:

In order to avoid being considered a hypocrite for asking people to go against Scriptural requirements concerning the death penalty, Pope John Paul II should "attempt"* to make an infallible declaration against the death penalty. The teachings of God are infallible. They can be further expounded but never diminished or reversed. God is consistent not capricious.

And what about Benedict's views on torture? Here's an interesting twist: he's beatifying (the next step to sainthood) a Filipino priest who was known to take an active part in the torture of another Filipino priest:

According to written testimony from the victim, [Father] Olaso participated in the 1896 torture of a Filipino priest named Fr. Mariano Dacanay, who was suspected of sympathy for anti-Spanish revolutionaries. Dacanay's own account asserts that Olaso and a handful of other Augustinians encouraged guards who were administering the torture, and that at one point Olaso himself kicked Dacanay in the head, hard enough to leave the suffering priest semi-conscious.

So, on count one, nothing. And on the count two, a bit of relativism.

Oh, and what about the cost of torture?

Justin Lindborg in a symposium on torture

Why do we walk in the gray areas? Do we, as a nation, desire utter peace of mind so much that we are willing to sully ourselves by flirting with such techniques? How can we with one arm punish violations of the Geneva Convention and with the other arm commit the very atrocities we condemn.

But to the general American public, we don't really condemn torture: it's condoned in our very media of "entertainment". Movies and TV routinely feature forms of torture with some benefits for the torturers (us).

This was posted on John Cole's Blog Balloon Juice:

[In an article discussing the TV show The 24 and it's protaganist, Jack Bauer who routinely uses torture] The new article provides a nice holistic picture of torture in America. The guys at the top – Dick Cheney, David Addington and his clan of neoconservative insiders – clearly wanted torture so badly that you wonder if they wrote those memos with their pants on. Jack Bauer was hardly needed with those guys. However, the peope at the other end of US power don’t have such black souls. The privates and NCOs with more ordinary American values, guys who would soon be called on by their superior officers to do morally repulsive things, would need some extra motivation. To get over their resistance to abusing helpless prisoners Jack Bauer, maybe the first mass media “good guy” who tortured on a regular basis, clearly made a major difference.

The cost? I can hear: "hey Vojir, give us dollars and cents!"

After reading about execution and torturing, I find that I can't. Sorry.