Posts filed under 'Cycle of Violence'

1985: The Dujail Massacre

Add comment March 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1985, 96 Iraqis were executed for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein. Though not the only or the largest atrocity of that dictator, it was the crime that would do to hang him under the U.S. occupation.

Two years deep into the horrific Iran-Iraq War, Hussein paid a ceremonial visit to theShi’ite town of Dujail north of Baghdad and was greeted by an armed ambuscade — up to a dozen gunmen springing from the cover of date palms to fire at the president’s motorcade. They missed.*

The ensuing vengeance was visited so widely as to earn the sobriquet Dujail Massacre: something like 1% of the 75,000-strong town wound up in the hands of the torturers, with 148 death sentences handed down and approved by the president — and they were none too exacting about direct complicity in the assassination, freely sweeping up regime opponents and sympathizers with the outlawed Dawa Party.

A document of March 23, 1985, certifies their mass execution although the Iraqi Special Tribunal‘s investigation found this to be a a bit of an overstatement; some had already been executed previously or died of maltreatment in custody, while a few of those still alive were not present in Abu Ghraib on that day. All told, it appears that 96 of the 148 people condemned to death for the attempt on Saddam Hussein’s life were put to death on March 23, 1985. To multiply the injury, the families of the alleged perpetrators also suffered confiscation of their homes and destruction of their orchards.

The detailed documentary trail, and specifically Hussein’s personal approval of the death sentences, recommended this case to the U.S. occupation of the early 2000s as the rope by which to hang the now-deposed dictator and his closest associates. Accordingly, the Dujail Massacre executions formed one of the central charges in the 2005-2006 trial that resulted in Saddam Hussein’s own execution.

* There were a couple of presidential bodyguards killed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Terrorists,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1871: Generals Lecomte and Thomas, at the birth of the Paris Commune

Add comment March 18th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1871, the Paris Commune was born, with the execution of Generals Lecomte and Thomas.

Paris had come to the brink of revolution by dint of the country’s humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. After a monthslong Prussian siege of the capital, Paris had become thoroughly radicalized and stood at tense loggerheads with the newly elected conservative national government of Adolphe Thiers. A militant National Guard swelled by the city’s large proletariat had defended Paris during its late privations, only to see a government of national humiliation accept punishing peace terms from Bismarck and submit to a Prussian victory parade on the Champs d’Elysees.

Now, it blanched at the national government’s intention to reassert its own long-absent authority in Paris.

These sovereigns’ rivalries chanced to focus in the critical moment upon 400 bronze cannon in Paris, which the National Guard had used in the city’s defense and deployed to working-class neighborhoods with the intention of keeping them out of the government’s hands.

On March 18, upon an order by Thiers which some of his ministers opposed, the army moved upon these guns, intending to seize weapons and authority together. General Claude Lecomte (English Wikipedia entry | French), a rock-ribbed career officer of 63, had charge of this operation so offensive to the Parisian populace.

Lecomte was able to deploy his men at Montmarte where a great portion of the guns would come into his possession, but well did the master observe that “The line between disorder and order lies in logistics” — for a delay in the arrival of the horses and tumbrils by which the artillery would be hauled away gave time for word to spread in the city and an angry crowd assemble to oppose this outrage. Thiers had overruled objections that his soldiery was itself sympathetic to the radicals and would not be reliable in the breach; now, those warnings were vindicated as the soldiery declined to fire on Parisians and instead fraternized as the people took back Montmarte.

Although Lecomte was “merely” seized for the Central Committee of the National Guard, Paris’s blood was up; “the mob wanted to tear their victims to pieces, and it is my opinion they are the culpable judges,” writes John Leighton in Paris Under the Commune.

The first to lay hands on General Lecomte were linesmen and Mobiles, one of the latter observing, as he made a gesture, “Formerly you punished me with thirty days in prison, now I will be the first to fire at you.” Whilst this was going on a new movement was observed in the crowd. It was the arrival of another prisoner, a venerable gentleman, with a white beard, in plain clothes. It was General Clement Thomas, who had been arrested in the Place Pigalle by the National Guards. The General had been advised to run away, but he would remain, saying, “I will walk, it is my right.” This brought about a mob, who conducted him to the Rue des Rosiers, making it still worse for the prisoner Lecomte, for it was well known that Clement Thomas had been pretty severe at the Hotel de Ville and elsewhere, on the battalions of Montmartre and Belleville.

Once in the Rue des Rosiers, General Thomas felt he was lost, but as he would not die without knowing the cause, he mounted some steps and in a loud voice demanded, “What do you reproach me with?” “To death!” replied the crowd. “You are too great cowards to shoot me,” said the General. With these words he was driven into the garden, whilst General Lecomte in the scuffle attempted to escape by the back door, though unfortunately without success. Once in the garden, the old vine-covered walls and chestnut trees became crowded with miserable spectators ready to see the horrible deed perpetrated by a peloton of soldiers of the line and two francs-tireurs. In falling, poor General Lecomte exclaimed, “Oh my poor children! my —-” As he sunk mortally wounded, a villain of the group stepped forward and slapped him in the face. Clement Thomas was shot by National Guards. At first only wounded, he afterwards fell pierced in fourteen places. A National Guard pulled him over by the beard, that his face might be seen, and for two hours afterwards the bodies afforded a ghastly spectacle that was enjoyed by an ignoble procession of spectators.

Outside the garden, with the city in an uproar, the proletarian organs that had grown over the long siege took Paris firmly in hand while national government officials fled as they could — or were rounded up as hostages if they could not. The Commune would be master of Paris for ten tense weeks, until Thiers’s republic drowned it in blood.

For Leighton, no friend of the Commune, all the woe in its suppression could be traced to the ham-handed cannon debacle of March 18, 1871:

One thing appears certain — that General Lecomte did not take prompt measures and proper precautions, and that the Government, which sent him to remove 171 guns, without teams, and so small a force, acted inconsiderately, and must be held morally responsible for the disasters which ensued — disasters that, terrible as they are, might have been worse and have led to the total ruin of France.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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2019: Nine for assassinating Hisham Barakat

Add comment February 20th, 2020 Headsman

Last year on this date, nine men purportedly involved in the 2015 car bomb assassination of Egyptian prosecutor general Hisham Barakat were hanged at a Cairo prison.

Barakat had prosecuted thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a military coup in 2013.

“A monument to unfair trials in Egypt” in the words of Amnesty International, this case compassed 28 total death sentences,* supported by the exercises of Egypt’s feared torturers. “Give me an electric probe and I’ll make anyone confess to assassinating [the late President Anwar] Sadat,” was the videotaped courtroom quip of Mahmoud al-Ahmadi, who was one of those noosed on February 20, 2019. “We have been electrocuted so much we could power Egypt for 20 years.” Other defendants described being hung upside-down, menaced with knives, forced into stress positions, and coerced via threats to their family members.

Not particularly aggressive with (judicial) executions prior to the Arab Spring that brought Morsi to power, Egypt under his deposer/successor Sisi has warmed up its gallows and now perennially ranks among the most execution-happy jurisdictions in the world. As of this writing we’re still awaiting Amnesty International’s annual review of global death penalty trends, but in 2018 that organization “credited” Egypt with 717 death sentences and 43 executions. Those figures respectively were second in the world (behind China) and sixth in the world (behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq).

* According to Amnesty International, 13 of the 28 convictions were in absentia (although at least one of these 13 has since been repatriated to Egypt). Of the 15 whom Egypt convicted in the flesh, six had their sentences reduced on appeal.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1964: Nguyen Van Nhung, Diem executioner

Add comment January 31st, 2020 Headsman

Vietnamese General Nguyen Van Nhung was (apparently) executed on this date in 1964.

He was the victim of a South Vietnamese coup, after having been a key operative in the previous one. Back on 2 November 1963, he’d piled into the back of an armored personnel carrier with the fresh-deposed President Ngo Dinh Diem, and Diem’s brother Ngô Dình Nhu. When the APC arrived at its destination, Diem and Nhu were both dead.

According to the other putchist in the vehicle with him,

As we rode back to the Joint General Staff headquarters, Diem sat silently, but Nhu and the captain [Nhung] began to insult each other. I don’t know who started it. The name-calling grew passionate. The captain had hated Nhu before. Now he was charged with emotion … [and] lunged at Nhu with a bayonet and stabbed him again and again, maybe fifteen or twenty times. Still in a rage, he turned to Diem, took out his revolver and shot him in the head. Then he looked back at Nhu, who was lying on the floor, twitching. He put a bullet into his head too. Neither Diem nor Nhu ever defended themselves. Their hands were tied. (Source)

Nhung’s turn as executioner — no unfamiliar role; the guy was notorious for tallying his career kills in notches on his gun barrel — made his boss Duong Van Minh the new President … for all of three months. By all accounts he was a useless executive:

the ruling generals were paralyzed by ineptitude. They had formed a military revolutionary council, composed of twelve members who bickered endlessly. Their normal chairman, General Minh, boasted that the collegial arrangement would guarantee against the autocratic excesses of the old regime. In reality, Minh had contrived the committee in order to bolster his prestige without increasing his responsibility. He was a model of lethargy, lacking both the skill and the inclination to govern. As he confided to me one morning as we chatted in his headquarters, he preferred to play tennis and tend to his orchids and exotic birds than to preside over tedious meetings and unravel bureaucratic tangles … In a cable to Washington, [U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge] described Minh as a “good, well-intentioned man,” but added a prophetic note: “Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?”

On 30 January 1964, Minh was overthrown by another general, Nguyen Khánh, in a bloodless dawn coup. Well, virtually bloodless. The sole casualty was Nguyen Van Nhung, who paid for the assassination of Diem the next day via a pistol shot to the head at a Saigon villa. The official story promulgated by the new regime described him instead committing suicide in shame for the Diem murder.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Executioners,History,No Formal Charge,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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2011: Muammar Gaddafi

Add comment October 20th, 2019 Headsman

Dictator Muammar Gaddafi (several alternate transliterations are familiar, such as Qaddafi and Gadhafi) was killed by his captors during the Libyan civil war on this date in 2011 — an act very much on the extrajudicial and summary side of the foggy borderlands defining an “execution”.

Libya’s despot since ejecting the British-supported King Idris way back in 1969, the wily colonel steered his state for 40-odd years; his blend of pan-Arabism, Islamic socialism, pan-Africanism, and direct democracy is known as the Third International Theory and expounded in Gaddafi’s own manual of political theory, The Green Book — which became required reading for generations of his subjects.

Eventually a figure of western vilification and a fixture in the United States’s enemy-of-the-month rotation, Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist credentials earned him respectful eulogies from Palestinians, black South Africans, and Latin American revolutionaries, all of whom he had at times aided. Whatever measure of genuine popular support he earned by measures like land distribution, Gaddafi did not hesitate to buttress with brutality. Internal regime opponents and dissident exiles alike had cause to fear him, and it’s not as if innocent bystanders could sleep easily either: a London constable was shot from the Libyan embassy during demonstrations in 1984, and only worldwide outcry prevented the execution of six foreign doctors who were scapegoated for an HIV outbreak in the early 2000s. Gaddafi’s government in 2008 paid $1.5 billion in compensation to settle a bundle of international terrorism incidents, including the 1986 West Berlin discotheque bombing and the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Fitting that his own savage end might enter periodization historiography as the fin de siècle américain.

The ham-fisted NATO intervention into Libya’s Arab Spring-era civil war that brought about Gaddafi’s death might be the last that Washington will have undertaken in its purported “hyperpower” era, accountable to none but its own intentions; certainly it was (in the words of James Mann) “the apotheosis of the Obamian approach to the world.”

The aftermath did not flatter the Obamians: post-Gaddafi Libya speedily descended into failed-state status and has spent most of the 2010s cursed by still-continuing civil war, human rights horror, Islamic terrorism, and even open slave markets, with knock-on effects stoking the refugee crisis in Europe.*

The chief advocate of the intervention within the Obama administration, Samantha Power of Strangelovian nomen and Bosnian war dreams, recently published her memoir, The Education of an Idealist and issued the enraging auto-exoneration, “We could hardly expect to have a crystal ball when it came to accurately predicting outcomes in places where the culture was not our own.” Merely being alive for the aftermath of the Iraq omnishambles might have done her the job of scrying; Power’s boss, at least, learned the lesson well enough to shy from the reckless regime-change commitments demanded (including by Power herself) for the Syria conflict that might have brought not only similar catastrophe to its immediate “beneficiaries” but the prospect of nuclear confrontation with Russia. More warfare is surely on humanity’s horizon as the 2020s approach, but with great power competition rising alongside the seas, the prospect that it will be undertaken with such careless self-regard in such a large and consequential state seems remote.

Nor will future Libyas be so vulnerable as Libya, if they can help it. In the years prior, Gaddafi had ostentatiously surrendered his nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid and diplomatic normalization. Other observers like North Korea have justifiably concluded that states armed with nukes don’t get invaded while those armed with Foggy Bottom IOUs are just the next Melos in waiting. They’ll have the horrific viral videos of a bloodied and pleading Gaddafi being brutalized by his captors to remind them.

The dry narrative of his fate, from a UN investigation:

On 19 October 2011, Qadhafi’s son Mutassim decided they should leave Sirte because the thuwar had encircled and entered the city, trapping Muammar Qadhafi and his men in District 2. On the morning of 20 October they set off in a heavily armed convoy of approximately 50 vehicles. The convoy consisted of Muammar Qadhafi; his son Mutassim who was already wounded; Defence Minister Abubakr Younis … and approximately 200 armed men. There were also women and children in the convoy. Some of the armed men evacuated their wounded colleagues from the hospital and these unarmed men were placed in cars with their bandages still on; some still had tubes in their bodies.

The convoy headed east on the main road but ran into a rebel ambush. Numerous cars were badly damaged in the ambush and a number of people were injured. They circled to the sea road and headed west. The convoy split up. At this point a Toyota Corolla in front of Muammar Qadhafi’s green Landcruiser was hit by a NATO airstrike, probably by a Predator drone, and exploded. The explosion set off the airbags in Qadhafi’s car. Muammar Qadhafi and switched cars. The front of the convoy started taking fire from thuwar positions near the power plant and so Muammar Qadhafi, and others took refuge in a house as some of their bodyguards engaged in a fire fight with the rebel positions.

Moments after Muammar Qadhafi entered the house, an airstrike hit the vehicles, setting off secondary explosions. The strike and subsequent explosions left many wounded lying on the ground. At this point the thuwar began shelling the house where Muammar Qadhafi was hiding. Mutassim Qadhafi took approximately 20 fighters and left to look for vehicles. Muammar Qadhafi reportedly wanted to stay and fight but was persuaded to escape. The group belly-crawled to a sand berm. On the way an electrical transformer was struck and electrical wires fell on Qadhafi, striking his head, but he was saved by his blue flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet which was knocked off. The group reached the berm and ran behind it to the road where there were two drainage pipes. The group crawled through the pipes and took up a defensive position on the west side of the road where the pipes terminated.

Muammar Qadhafi crouched outside and between the two pipes. Abubakr Younis was in the right pipe and two fighters took up a position by a berm facing south and the other fighters faced north. The group was sheltered from the road and was unseen by the rebels … [until it] decided the group would make a stand and opened fire on a passing rebel vehicle. There was a fire fight. One of the guards threw a grenade. The grenade hit the top of the cement wall above the pipes and fell in front of Muammar Qadhafi. The guard tried to pick up the grenade but it exploded, killing him … Qadhafi was wounded in the blast by grenade shrapnel that hit and shredded his flak jacket. He sat on the floor dazed and in shock, bleeding from a wound in the left temple.

At that point, one of the party fashioned a white flag from his turban and waved in surrender to the thuwar from the 501st Brigade. The thuwar laid the men on their faces and bound their wrists. Muammar Qadhafi was immediately surrounded by thuwar and beaten. Muammar Qadhafi was heard to ask, “What is going on?” The survivors were placed into vehicles and taken away. [Mutassim Gaddafi and Abu-Bakr Yunis were also killed that same day by their captors. -ed.]

This is where the eyewitness evidence received by the Commission ends. Videos of the scene show Muammar Qadhafi being roughly handled by the thuwar, many screaming “We are Misrata” to identify where they are from. He is apparently stabbed with a bayonet in the buttocks. He is placed on the hood of a vehicle, bloody but alive, before being placed in an ambulance. He clearly has one head wound from the grenade shrapnel, but is otherwise not wounded. This is the last time Muammar Qadhafi is seen alive.

A televised interview of one of those who accompanied Muammar Qadhafi in the ambulance gave an account of what happened next. The young man, who states he is from Benghazi but was travelling with men from the Misrata thuwar when the Qadhafi convoy was attacked, claims he was the one that found Muammar Qadhafi and got into the back of the ambulance with him and two men from the Misrata thuwar. The ambulance started to drive to Misrata. The young man claims there was an argument between himself and the men from Misrata on what to do with Muammar Qadhafi, with him wanting to bring Qadhafi back to Bengazi. He claims he shot Qadhafi in the head and abdomen.

The Commission is unable to verify his claims. Video shows he was in the ambulance when Muammar Qadhafi was placed in it. What is clear is that Qadhafi was alive when he was taken into custody and placed in an ambulance in Sirte by members of the Misrata thuwar and was seemingly dead when the ambulance arrived in Misrata …

According to news reports, the official autopsy states Qadhafi was killed by a gunshot to the head. The Commission was not provided access to the autopsy report despite numerous requests to the NTC. Photos of Muammar Qadhafi’s body were provided to the Commission by members of the medical committee of Misrata who participated in the external examination of Qadhafi’s body … Analysis of the photos of the abdominal wounds by the Commission’s forensic pathologist determined they were penetrating wounds in the epigastric area, the nature of which was difficult to determine from photographs. Interviews with journalists who saw the body indicate Qadhafi was shot once in the head and twice in the abdomen.

* Just months ago as of this writing, the German sea captain Carola Rackete was arrested for breaking an Italian blockade to dock in Sicily with some 40 migrants: they’d been rescued off the coast of Libya.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,Heads of State,History,Libya,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1578: Jacob Hessels, “to the gallows, to the gallows!”

Add comment October 4th, 2019 Headsman

Flanders magistrate Jacob Hessels (Dutch link, as are most that follow) was hanged on this date in 1578.

He was a feared hanging judge — the story about him is that he would drift to sleep at the bench and awake with a start exclaiming, “to the gallows, to the gallows!” — who by profession and disposition was ideally suited for the so-called “Council of Blood” that would be seated in 1567 to help the Spanish Duke of Alba suppress the emerging revolt of the Low Countries against Habsburg sovereignty.


In this 1616 engraving by Simon Frisius, the cadaverous Duke of Alba presides over his Council of Troubles or Council of Blood.

He’s credited in particular with drafting the infamous sentence against Counts Egmont and Hoorn, but these were only highlights among a prolific career that earned him the hatred of the parties that chafed under imperial domination.

This was bad news for Hessels when one of those parties, Calvinists, mounted a coup d’etat that took control of Ghent in late 1577. We have in these pages previously encountered this period, in the form of the Calvinists’ persecution of Catholic monks; they also in the course of things imprisoned a number of secular officials associated with Habsburg/Catholic rule. Most of these would in time be ransomed unharmed; however, one of the principal leaders of the short-lived Calvinist Republic was Francois van Ryhove, who considered Hessels and another captive state’s attorney named Visch to be personal enemies and resolved upon their destruction.

Without color of any law or juridical proceeding, according to this Dutch-language history,

On October 4, 1578, he took the two prisoners out of their dungeon and had them carried outside of the gate in an armed carriage. Not far from town, the carriage stopped at Ryhove’s order, the prisoners were made to climb down, and Ryhove announced that they would be hung on a nearby tree immediately. He then mocked the old Hessels in a shameful way, and he went so far as to mistreat him viciously by grabbing his beard and pulling out a fistful of gray hair, which he put on his hat like a feather as an insignia of his revenge! His companions followed the mocking example of their unworthy leader; then the two unfortunates were hung to the tree.

Hessels and Visch, but especially the former, undoubtedly deserved death, and if that punishment had been imposed on them as a result of a legal judgment, few would have complained. But now they fell as the victims of a shameful, personal vengeance. Ryhove, the head of the Ghent party of revolution, the friend of Orange, had killed them without trial and his crime remained unpunished, for the prince had not power enough to make him feel his displeasure. Was it a miracle that the malcontents were crying out for revenge, that they were using the horrific crime committed by that one man as a pretext to also justify on their part to such atrocities against the Protestants, and that the angry Gentenaars in their turn again took revenge by assaulting the Catholic priests and looting the monasteries?

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Judges,Lawyers,Netherlands,No Formal Charge,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1916: Yakub Cemil, Ottoman putschist

Add comment September 11th, 2019 Headsman

Ottoman officer Yakub Cemil was executed on this date in 1916 as an aspiring putschist.

A Circassian infantryman who served under Enver Pasha in the 1900s, Cemil was an early and ardent supporter of the Committee of Union and Progress. This onetime underground party ascended to national preeminence in 1908, after which Cemil became a sturdy “weapon of the organization”.

He did not shrink to imbrue his hands with blood; allegedly, he assassinated journalist Ahmet Samin Bey in 1910, and on campaign in Libya against the Italian invasion he privately murdered a black lieutenant out of some combination of suspected espionage and racial animus. His implacability was his great asset and his great liability; the eventual father of post-Ottoman Turkeuy, Ataturk is perhaps apocryphally supposed to have mused, “If I one day mount a revolution, Cemil is the first man I want by my side, and Cemil is the first man I will hang afterwards.”

Such provincial homicides were but studies for the main deed of his days when in the 1913 Ottoman coup d’etat when he gunned down War Minister Nazim Pasha on the steps of the Sublime Porte as his CUP comrades barged in to force the resignation of the aging Grand Vizier and take the state firmly in hand.

It was an act that shook capitals around the world.


9 February 1913 edition of Le Petit Journal with a cover depiction of “un coup d’etat a Constantinople: muertre de Nazim Pacha”.

Ironically it was a desire for peace that brought his end. A couple of years deep into the catastrophe of World War I, Cemil rightly perceived the need to extricate his state from the conflict, and began making plans to topple the “Three Pashas” of the CUP whom he had helped to bring to power. His old friend Enver Pasha had no intention of approving the resulting death sentence — indeed, he had caught wind of it and tried persuasion to bring Cemil back onside — but when Enver Pasha was summoned to Berlin for a war council the fellow triumvir Talaat Pasha signed off on the execution with dispatch.

Rumors and legends abound concerning his death, such as shouting “Long live the Committee for Union and Progress!” before the firing squad opened up on him, and an agonizing half-hour bleed-out during which the expiring Cemil scrawled a patriotic slogan in the dirt with his own blood.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Ottoman Empire,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1217: Eustace the Monk, turncoat outlaw

Add comment August 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1217, the pirate Eustace the Monk was defeated in battle and summarily beheaded, scuppering an ongoing invasion that nearly seated a French dauphin on the English throne.

This colorful outlaw commenced life as the younger son of a Boulogne lord, but his conventional path into the Abbey Saint-Wulms was aborted by the murder of his father — leading Eustace to abandon his cowl for a vain attempt at vengeance.

“From a black monk becoming demoniac” — in the words of one chronicle — the man’s career thence proceeded, first rejoining the secular economy as a seneschal and then pivoting to outlawry when his former master turned against him.

His exploits in banditry are greatly embellished and romanticized in the medieval French verse titled Eustache the Monk (peruse in full here; helpful introduction here), including a number of charming and imaginary vignettes that double as moral parables and medieval slices-of-life.

Eustache spotted the Abbot of Jumièges as he was coming down the road. “Sir Abbot,” he said, “stop where you are! What are you carrying? Come now, don’t hide it.” The Abbot answered: “What’s it to you?” At this, Eustache was ready to hit him, but instead replied: “What’s it to me, fat-ass? Upon my word, I’ll make it my business. Get down, fast, and not another word out of you, or I’ll let you have it. You’ll be beaten up so badly you won’t be worth a hundred pounds.” The Abbot thought the man was drunk, and said, more politely this time: “Go away. You won’t find what you are looking for here.” Eustache responded: “Cut the bullshit and get off your horse fast, or you’ll be in for a lot of trouble.” The Abbot got down, frightened now. Eustache asked how much money he had with him. “Four marks,” said the Abbot, “in truth I only have four marks silver.” Eustache searched him immediately and found thirty marks or more. He gave back to the Abbot the four marks he claimed to have. The Abbot became duly furious; for, had he told the truth, he would have got back all his money. The Abbot lost his money only because he told a lie.

Around this time Eustace set up as a freelance English Channel pirate and was regularly employed by the English King John from about 1205 until 1212, when he switched his allegiance back to Philip II of France. Eustace tormented his former English patrons during the civil war in that country that led to the Magna Carta; the rebel barons in this war offered the English throne to the French heir Louis, and Louis invaded and held London and about half the realm, merrily aided by Eustace’s channel buccaneers.

Things went sideways for Louis and for Eustace in 1217; the former suffered a devastating reversal at the Battle of Lincoln.* Our man Eustace, attempting to reinforce Louis’s camp, was intercepted at sea and trounced at the Battle of Sandwich.**

Run-of-the-mill French knights were captured for ransom as per usual;

With Eustance, however, the case was different. When the ship was captured, the English instituted a search for him, and he was at length discovered down in the hold (Matthew Paris says in the bilge-water) by ‘Richard Sorale and Wudecoc’. Then Eustace offered a large sum of money for a ransom, ten thousand marks, as the writer of the Guillaume le Marechal puts it; ‘but it could not be.’ His addition offer (so Wendover) to serve the king of the English faithfully thereafter, if actually made, would have been only a reminder of his previous injuries. It was Stephen Trabe (or Crave) [or Crabbe -ed.], one of the mariners, ‘who had long been with him,’ that executed him, so the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie tells us; or as the poem of Guillaume le Marechal narrates it: ‘There was one there named Stephen of Winchelsea, who recalled to him the hardships which he had caused them both upon land and sea and who gave him the choice of having his head cut off either upon the trebuchet or upon the rail of the ship. Then he cut off his head.’ The head was subsequently fixed upon a lance and borne to Canterbury and about the country for a spectacle. The Romance concludes with the sentiment: ‘Nor can one live long who is intent always upon doing evil.’ (Henry Lewis Cannon


13th century illustration: Eustace gets the chop over the side of the boat.

Eustace’s defeat completely undermined Louis’s position, and the chancer was obliged to retreat to his homeland — where he’d become king in 1223. He’s known as Louis the Lion, which is pretty good, but he was rather convincingly surpassed by his son Saint Louis.

* Known to history as the “Lincoln Fair” for all the looting that occurred afterwards.

** The English maneuver on this occasion was to use an advantageous wind to hurl lime onto the French ships, blinding the enemy crews.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,At Sea,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Outlaws,Pirates,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Wartime Executions

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1970: Dan Mitrione, an American torturer in Uruguay

Add comment August 10th, 2019 Headsman

United States torturer Dan Mitrione was executed on this date in 1970 by Uruguayan guerrillas.

A onetime Indiana beat cop, Dan Mitrione graduated to an agent of empire via a USAID program called the Office of Public Safety.

This organ headlined the putatively amicable mission of extending training to foreign police officers, both in their home countries and in the American capital. OPS’s real purpose, according to A.J. Langguth‘s Hidden Terrors: The Truth About U.S. Police Operations in Latin America, was

allowing the CIA to plant men with the local police in sensitive places around the world; and after careful observation on their home territory, bringing to the United States prime candidates for enrollment as CIA employees

The foreign policemen themselves understood why they were being sent to Washington. Even before the coup d’etat, in July 1963, one Brazilian officer described the academy program to the governor of Sao Paulo as “the latest methods in the field of dispersion of strikes and striking workers.” He would learn, he said, how to use dogs and clubs and “to modernize the mechanism of repression against agitators in Sao Paulo.”

Brazil is where Mitrione made his bones over the course of the 1960s, years when the CIA trained some 100,000 Brazilian cops. But his mission was as universal as the toenails he ripped off and by 1969 he’d been reassigned to neighboring Uruguay further to that state’s suppression of a growing leftist revolutionary movement, the Tupamaros.*

One recruit named Manuel Hevia Cosculluela — who notoriuosly gave Mitrione’s mission statement as “the precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect” — recalled the “trainings” these Uruguayan pupils received in his now-out-of-print 1978 book Pasaporte 11333: ocho años con la CIA.

As subjects for the first testing, they took beggars, known in Uruguay as bichicones, from the outskirts of Montevideo, along with a woman from the border with Brazil. There was no interrogation, only a demonstration of the different voltages on the different parts of the human body, together with the uses of a drug to induce vomiting — I don’t know why or for what — and another chemical substance.

The four of them died.

(There’s a good deal more stomach-turning stuff about the Mitrione program in this pando.com article.)

Heightened repression also heightened the response of the Tupamaros, who had not previously shown themselves a particularly bloodthirsty bunch. The Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence Alejandro Otero gave an embarrassing-to-Washington interview to a Brazilian paper revealing Mitrione’s work, complaining that “The violent methods which were beginning to be employed, caused an escalation in Tupamaro activity. Before then their attitude showed that they would use violence only as a last resort.”

In their day the Tupamaros managed to take a pound of flesh from their persecutors by kidnapping Mitrione as a hostage to the release of 150 political prisoners. Mitrione was executed when Uruguay refused the exchange, although in later years Tupamaros founder Raul Sendic would reveal that the guerrillas had intended to hold Mitrione in indefinite captivity, but were spooked into conducting the execution when early-August police raids on revolutionary cadres broke the lines of communication between leadership and kidnappers ahead of a threatened drop-dead date: thus, “when the deadline came the group that was left with Mitrione did not know what to do. So they decided to carry out the threat.”** He was shot in the early hours of August 10 and his body deposited in a car for easy discovery.

Mitrione’s death met with great umbrage on his native soil; his VIP-rich funeral in his native Richmond, Ind. saw the Uruguayan ambassador vow that his killers would “reap the wrath of civilized people everywhere.” So civilized people “in the aftermath of Dan Mitrione’s death … unleashed the illegal death squads to hunt and kill insurgents.”

Costa-Gavras fictionalized the Mitrione story in the 1972 French classic State of Siege.

As for the OPS, that program wound down in 1974 as exposes made its work increasingly untenable … but the same project of barely-veiled anti-Communist suppression transitioned seamlessly to the Drug Enforcement Agency and a host of other alphabet-soup agencies around Washington.

* They were named for executed Andean revolutionary Tupac Amaru. The Tupamaros were violently suppressed over the course of the 1970s but when the dictatorship ended in 1984 its remaining prisoners were amnestied. The remnants of the movement eventually folded into the Frente Amplio center-left party, which is today Uruguay’s ruling party; Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015, was a former Tupamaros guerrilla who served 13 years in prison.

** Sendic is obviously an interested party in the affair but there’s some corroboration to his account in that the movement held several other hostages whom it could not exchange for months, only to release them unharmed in the end. (e.g. American agronomist Claude Fly, British diplomat Geoffrey Jackson)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Shot,Torture,Uruguay

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1393: Karsten Sarnow, Stralsund mayor

Add comment June 28th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1393 the mayor of Stralsund was beheaded.

From the perspective of that Hanseatic city‘s hereditary patricianate, Karsten Sarnow was a chancer — a burgher who championed the political reforms that enabled his own self to enter the city council.

He cinched his municipal preeminence by taking leadership of the naval campaign against some Baltic pirates and successfully suppressing them, marching a hundred or more of them through town for execution.

With this prestige he attained the mayoralty and attempted to implement an ambitious constitutional reform that chased the leading grandee family from the city.

This house, the Wulflams,* successfully intrigued against Sarnow from the Hanse sister-city of Lübeck and eventually Wulfhard Wulflam had the pleasure of revenging the slights against his station by ordering the decapitation of both Sarnow’s person and his constitutional innovations.

This coup scarcely resolved the simmering class and faction conflicts in Stralsund, as discussed by F.L. Carstein in Essays in German History, which notes that “from the beginning of the 14th century the patrician rule was attacked time and again by movements and revolts of the urban Commons, especially in the most important town of Pomerania, Stralsund.”

The popular movement, however, was not stifled. The council was forced to declare the memory of the executed Sarnow untarnished; his body was exhumed and given a solemn funeral. The populist party triumphed once more, helped by battles against the pirates. Yet after only a short time the rule of the old council was restored; the leaders of the rebellion were executed and 48 burghers were expelled …

The 15th century brought new unrest to Stralsund, of a clearly anticlerical character. The ecclesiastical superintendent of the town was a nobleman, Kurt von Bonow. In 1407 he complained about the low offerings the burghers gave to him, quit the town, assembled his noble friends and appeared with 300 horsemen outside the walls. They cut off the hands and feet of burghers whom they found outside, burnt down the farms beyond the walls and departed triumphantly with cattle and other booty; burning villages marked their path. When the priests in Stralsund added their insults and the rumour spread that they supported their leader with arms and money, the burghers, led by the porters’ guild, rose against the clergy, imprisoned sixteen of them and then attempted to burn the house where they were confined. The council tried to protect the priests, but the enraged crowd shouted they were all knaves and evildoers, they had helped to fan the fires and therefore they must burn. The master of the porters’ guild demanded the death of the three senior priests who were burned in the market place; the others were saved by the council. The news of ‘the priests burning at the Sund’ (i.e. Stralsund) spread throughout Germany. Then the burghers marched out of the town and pillaged the houses and estates of noblemen who had participated in Bonow’s enterprise. The feud between them and the nobility allied with the duke lasted seven years, and several other Pomeranian towns supported Stralsund. All trade languished …

About this time the social conflicts in the Hanseatic towns, especially in Lübeck, became so strong that the League — which meant the ruling merchant aristocracies — at a Diet held in Lübeck stipulated the death penalty for burghers who summoned the Commons to take action or agitated otherwise against the council; any member town in which the council was forcibly deposed by the burghers was to lose the Hanseatic privileges and liberties and was not to receive any help from the other towns. Fear had grown to such an extent that it was further ordained no burgher was to appear in front of the council with more than six companions.

Wulfhard Wulflam himself was murdered in 1409 in a revenge killing by the son of a noble knight whom he, Wulflam, had slain several years prior.

* The family’s Wulflamhaus, an outstanding exemplar of the late Gothic style, is still to be seen in Stralsund.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanseatic League,Heads of State,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,The Worm Turns,Treason

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