1955: Moshe Marzouk and Shmuel Azar

On this date in 1955, two Egyptian Jews enrolled by Israeli intelligence as saboteurs were hanged in Cairo.

Marzouk (left) and Azar, from this page.

The strange and disturbing “Lavon affair” — or “Esek habish,” the “shameful affair” — has never had a completely satisfying explanation.

It broke in 1954, when Egypt arrested a ring comprised of Egyptian Jews who had bombed locations in Alexandria and Cairo, including an American diplomatic post, in an apparent false flag operation meant to be attributed to the radical Muslim Brotherhood. (The apparent operation had a recent precedent.)

The germ and the goal of this project have been fodder for speculation ever since; the most commonly accepted theory is that it was intended to trigger western intervention or pressure on Egypt that would prevent Nasser from nationalizing the Suez Canal.

Initially blamed on the Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, unrelated court testimony in 1960 would reveal that he was a fall guy.

But in any guise, the hangings this day in Cairo prompted national mourning in Israel and an immediate political shakeup whose dimensions might as well have sprung from this morning’s paper:

The dovish government of Moshe Sharett fell; hawkish founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was recalled from retirement in a Negev kibbutz; and Israel launched a reprisal raid at Gaza. Little more than two years later, Israel and Egypt would contest control of the Suez on the battlefield.

1996: William Flamer, Alito’d

On this date in 1996, William Flamer was executed for murder in Delaware.

He’s a forgettable criminal who, with an accomplice executed 19 months before, robbed and stabbed to death Flamer’s elderly aunt and uncle.

He has his small footnote in modern American death penalty jurisprudence in a case decided by then-circuit court judge Samuel Alito, which was — er — exhumed when President George W. Bush elevated Alito to the Supreme Court.

The matter was, to all but the initiated, a fairly picayune legal issue: if the jury that imposed his sentence used an aggravating factor subsequently found to be unconstitutional, could the sentence stand with the multiple other, constitutional aggravating factors it also used?

Little compelling as the issue might sound to all but the already converted, this sort of salami-slicing goes on justices’ daily bread to make up the great hero sandwich of jurisprudence. Mmm-mmm.

Anyway, the State of the Union head-shaker held — as Flamer’s presence in this blog would suggest — against the appellant.

Pdf examinations of Flamer v. Delaware (and other Alito death penalty legal opinions) prepared around the justice’s confirmation hearing are available from the Congressional Research Service and from the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, the latter a pro-death penalty source.

(This decision also affected fellow Delaware death row inmate Billy Bailey, whom we have just met as the last man hanged in that state. Flamer could have had that distinction for himself; he chose lethal injection instead, and died four days after Bailey hanged.)