Cruel and Unusual

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Cruel and Unusual

 

According to the Supreme Court, the Constitution does not allow for “cruel and unusual punishment” but does allow for an individual to be confined in  a room for years awaiting the date of their execution. In the case of a recent botched lethal injection in Oklahoma, these executions are sometimes tantamount to torture, and are arguably inherently  inhumane.

I thought I would include two passages on the subject, from Camu and Orwell, who I think both made their points better than I did.

On the notion of the death penalty providing justice by way of equivalence, Camu wrote in his essay Reflections on the Guillotine

But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s
deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.

And George Orwell, who wrote about the meaning of extinguishing a human life in his short story, A Hanging

It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound arms, but quite steadily, with that bobbing gait of the Indian who never straightens his knees. At each step his muscles slid neatly into place, the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.

It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were working – bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming – all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned – reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone – one mind less, one world less.

 

 

 

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