Posts filed under 'Daily Doubles'

Daily Double: Iraq’s 14 July Revolution

Add comment July 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1958, the aptly named 14 July Revolution deposed the ruling Hashemite dynasty of Iraq — with the summary execution of the royal family and its chief ministers.

Iraq emerged from the World War I Ottoman breakup as a kingdom ruled by Faisal I.*

Independent in name, this kingdom in reality was a British client and its statecraft congenial to Anglo objectives in the Gulf grew increasingly obnoxious to its subjects. The reliably pro-British premier Nuri al-Said dominated Iraqi politics from the late 1940s, while Faisal’s teenaged grandson Faisal II “reigned” from a London boarding school.**

For an average Iraqi moved by the era’s stirring spirit of nationalism, the situation compounded grievance upon grievance: the suspicious “car crash” death of nationalist-minded inter-Faisal King Ghazi in 1939; the 1941 British invasion to block a nationalist coup, and the continuous British occupation that continued thereafter until 1947; and Iraq’s headline enrollment in the western-sponsored regional alliance meant to counter Soviet influence. Official Baghdad stood foursquare against the tide of Arab nationalism embodied by Nasser‘s Egypt, and very much many Iraqis’ similar aspirations.

Major protests rocked Iraq in 1948, in 1952, and especially when Britain, France, and Israel tried to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt in 1956; each time Iraq’s pro-British elites managed to suppress the immediate threat, but also proved constitutionally incapable of adapting the Iraqi state to the shifting world.

So, on the 14th of July in 1958, the shifting world adapted the state.


The bodies of ‘Abd al-Ilah (left) and Nuri al-Said (right) publicly mutilated after the revolution.

* The Alec Guinness character in Lawrence of Arabia.

** Faisal II schooled with Jordan’s King Hussein, his cousin; the two dreamed of combining their countries into an enlarged Hashemite state and had just begun such a project when Iraq’s revolution aborted the plan. Hussein was much the more fortunate ruler, dying in bed in 1999 after a 47-year reign; his son remains the king of Jordan to this day.

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Entry Filed under: Daily Doubles,Execution,Iraq,Mature Content,Themed Sets

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Daily Double: Child Rape

Add comment June 18th, 2019 Headsman

Setting aside crimes of state such as treason or espionage, it’s safe to say that most would characterize murder as the ultimate among “ordinary” crimes and the model potential death penalty crime. It’s not the only thing people get executed for, but it’s where the conversation tends to start.

Among non-homicide crimes, rape might be the most incendiary, and the rape of a child in particular would be a strong candidate for an offense that might attract majority support for capital punishment. Indeed, the U.S. state of Louisiana recently attempted to implement just such a law; its rejection by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 was expediently condemned across the political spectrum. Presidential candidate Barack Obama, who opposed the death penalty years before he reached the national stage, proved that he’s no Michael Dukakis by condemning that court ruling:

I think that the rape of a small child, six or eight years old is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable.

Given that take in the U.S., where nobody has been executed for rape since 1964, it comes as no surprise to find headlines cases of executions for child rape elsewhere in the world. Our next two days’ posts focus on two such instances.

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Daily Double: Hameln after the war

Add comment May 15th, 2017 Headsman

Famous for its Pied Piper, the Saxon town of Hameln (Hamelin) after World War II had the honor or burden of sending off 150+ of the war criminals whose volkische enchantments had so devastated Europe. (Plus a number of others for more ordinary crimes under military jurisdiction.)

Taking over a prison where the Nazis had murdered leftists, Jews, and homosexuals, the British made it Albert Pierrepoint‘s home away from home, the gallows-clearinghouse for war crimes trials throughout the western Reich. In Hameln the suave hangman noosed many of the World War II convicts that have featured on this here site down the years, including those of

Great Britain maintained a military presence in Hameln throughout the Cold War, which it is only now winding down. However, she handed the prison back to the West German government in 1950, and German authorities responded by controversially reburying 91 hanged war criminals in a consecrated cemetery.

The prison buildings still stand today, but they’ve been since converted into a four-star hotel which doesn’t advertise the many frightful ghosts who haunt its suites.

For the next two days, we’ll resurrect a few of them from consecutive mass hangings in 1946. For more about Hameln and a thorough roster of its postwar executions, see this page on the invaluable Capital Punishment UK site.

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Daily Double: Child Burglars in Nuremberg

Add comment February 11th, 2017 Headsman

Our subject today is the journal Franz Schmidt, the redoubtable master executioner of the German city Nuremberg. On February 11-12 in 1584, Schmidt made an end of a gang of near-feral youth burglars with colorfully outlandish nicknames — an occasion notable enough to merit an illustration in the Nuremberg chronicle.

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Daily Double: Felix Platter’s Diary

3 comments September 28th, 2016 Headsman

We have visited previously the 16th century diary of Swiss medical student Felix Platter during his studies in Montpellier. (The diary is available free online.)

This book portrays the 16th century through the remarkable Platter family.

Platter isn’t a diarist of executions in particular: his is a record of everyday life comprising Platter’s own personal affairs, university events (such as a student protest), and highlight events in the town (such as a storm that knocked down a steeple). Given his course of studies, Felix was ever next door to death; his forays to cemeteries for moonlight grave-robbing of corpses to anatomize make great reading.

my principal study was anatomy. Not only did I never miss the dissections of men and animals that took place in the College, but I also took part in every secret autopsy of corpses, and I came to put my own hand to the scalpel, despite the repulsion I had felt at first. I joined with French students and exposed myself to danger to procure subjects.

A bachelor of medicine named Gallotus, who had married a woman from Montpellier and was passing rich, would lend us his house. He invited me, with some others, to join him in nocturnal expeditions outside the town, to dig up bodies freshly buried in the cloister cemetery, and we carried them to his house for dissection. We had spies to tell us of burials and to lead us by night to the graves.

Our first excursion of this kind took place on the 11th of November 1554. As night fell Gallotus led us out of the town to the monastery of the Augustins, where we met a monk, called Brother Bernhard, a determined fellow, who had disguised himself in order to help us. When we came to the monastery we stayed to drink, quietly, until midnight. Then, in complete silence, and with swords in hand, we made our way to the cemetery of the monastery of Saint-Denis. There we dug up a corpse with our hands, the earth being still loose, because the burial had taken place only that day, As soon as we had uncovered it we pulled it out with ropes, wrapped it in a flassada (blanket) and carried it on two poles as far as the gates of the town. It must then have been about three o’clock in the morning.

We put the corpse to one side and knocked on the postern that is opened for coming and going at night, and the old porter came in his shirt to open it for us. We asked him to bring us something to drink, under the pretext that we were dying of thirst, and while he went in search of wine three of us brought the cadaver in and carried it directly to Gallotus’s house, which was not far away. The porter was not suspicious, and we rejoined our companions. On opening the winding sheet in which the body was sewn, we found a woman with a congenital deformity of the legs, the two feet turned inwards. We did an autopsy and found, among other curiosities, various veins vasorwn spermaticonm, which were not deformed, but followed the curve of the legs towards the buttocks. She had a lead ring, and as I detest these it added to my disgust.

Encouraged by the success of this expedition, we tried again five days later. We had been informed that a student and a child had been buried in the same cemetery of Saint-Denis.

When night came we left die town to go to the monastery of the Augustins. It was the 16th of December. [sic: he meant to say the 16th of November] In Brother Bernhard’s cell we ate a chicken cooked with cabbage. We got the cabbage ourselves, from the garden, and seasoned it with wine supplied by the monk. Leaving the table, we went out with our weapons drawn, for the monks of Saint-Denis had discovered that we had exhumed the woman, and they had threatened us direly should we return. Myconius carried his naked sword, and the Frenchmen their rapiers. The two corpses were disinterred, wrapped in our cloaks, and carried on poles as before as far as the gates of the town. We did not dare to rouse the porter this time, so one of us crawled inside through a hole that we discovered under the gate for they were very negligently maintained. We passed the cadavers through the same opening, and they were pulled through from the inside. We followed in turn, pulling ourselves through on our backs; I remember that I scratched my nose as I went through.

The two subjects were carried to Gallotus’s house and their coverings were removed. One was a student whom we had known. The autopsy revealed serious lesions. The lungs were decomposed and stank horribly, despite the vinegar that we sprinkled on them; we found some small stones in them. The child was a little boy, and we made a skeleton of him.

When I returned to my lodging early in the morning, the shop boy who slept with me did not hear me ring, and he did not wake even when I threw stones against the shutters. I was obliged to go for some sleep to the house of one of the Frenchmen who had been with us. After this the monks of Saint-Denis guarded their graveyard, and if a student came near he was received with bolts from a crossbow.

But often enough too we find him observing the near side of death’s door. The casual frequency with which Platter notes public executions — with sufficient detail to imply the author’s personal attendance — underscores their ubiquity; there would not have been a person alive for whom the phenomenon was unfamiliar, for maximal exposure was its modus operandi. In the first pages of Platter’s diary, he remarks on seeing “several men hanging from gibbets and others exposed on wheels” as his travel party nears Lyons.

Paradoxically, their frequency makes these events forgettable: just the latest in an unending chain of small crooks broken apart by the state for the possible predation of aspiring doctors. The executions Platter remarks for the next two days fit this category; they have little historical weight as such, but through Platter we have them, frozen in amber as it were, a preserved moment from a half-alien past.

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Daily Double: Saddam Hussein crushes a coup

Add comment January 21st, 2016 Headsman

On January 20, 1970, the government of Iraq crushed a coup attempt … and in the days immediately ensuing it executed a reported 44 people.

From the vantage of the decades since passed, this must appear but a minor bloodbath — and an early harbinger of the lethal political orbit of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq at this point was a mere 18 months into the rule of the Ba’ath party, commanded for the moment by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, elder cousin to his number two, Saddam Hussein. Over the course of the 1970s, Saddam became ever more the essential man in Baghdad until by decade’s end he was able to usurp his kinsman in another bloody purge.

Although as a young man Saddam had been a CIA asset against a previous ruler, Ba’athist Iraq was Soviet-aligned — and an enemy to American-backed Iran. As usual for the Cold War, everyone was interested in overthrowing one another’s proxies.

According to Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography, the coup that forms our concern this date was led by two retired senior officers, Abd al-Ghani al-Rawi, a loyalist of the Ba’athists’ Nasserite predecessors, and Salih Mahdi al-Samarra’i — and, Baghdad charged, backed by “Iran, the CIA, and the Zionists.”

According to the official account, the plotters formed “hit squads” that were supposed to kill Party and governmental officials. The zero hour was set for 10:00 pm. on January 20, but most of the plotters had been arrested beforehand. The hard core of the plot, some 50 armed men headed by al-Samarra’i, managed to set out for the Presidential Palace. Once they reached their destination, the gates were thrown open, and after entering without resistance, the grou pwas led into a large hall. As they weighed their options, the door was thrown open and Saddam entered the hall, accompanied by several officers. The plotters surrendered peacefully, after recognizing that they had been lured into a trap.

A snap tribunal chaired by Taha Yassin Ramadan — himself destined for hanging during the American occupation — instantly convened and began meting out death sentences by the fistful: for civilians, hangings; for military men, shootings conducted with the rebels’ own weaponry.

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Daily Double: Georgia

Add comment November 14th, 2015 Headsman

Though not exactly the capital of capital punishment, the Peach State has a foundational place in the modern death penalty regime.

It was through a case originating in that state, Furman v. Georgia, that the Supreme Court in 1972 scrapped the country’s existing death penalty statutes. Many states then scrambled to rewrite capital statutes to pass constitutional muster, and in 1976 it was the Georgia version that the justices blessed, clearing the way for executions to resume.

Since that time, Georgia has put to death 57 men and (most recently) one woman, and it feels for all the world like it’s manifested a disproportionate affinity for questionable and unusual cases: the recent execution of Troy Davis despite serious doubts about his guilt is only the most current example. Hey, this is the state that once executed Homer Simpson.

To take one example, the discomfiting 1986 execution of a grievously mentally disabled man led Georgia to implement one of the first laws to protect such prisoners from execution … a law which by its very novelty in the 1980s has lately made headlines because it’s subsequently aged into one of the flimsiest and most obsolescent protections in the country.

It was also through the case of Georgia inmate Warren McCleskey that the 1989 Supreme Court rejected racial proportionality review in capital sentencing — and by this rejection signaled the end of an era of judicial reticence for the death penalty. Executions accelerated through the 1990s all across the United States; Georgia’s special twist, it would later emerge, was keeping secret audio recordings of theirs.

As we dial the clock back to 1996, Georgia’s Supreme Court has not yet found the electric chair unconstitutional but aside from that artifact the period, the cases are not so different from those today. These are a far cry from the strangest executions in Georgia’s history, unless the strangeness lies in their very typicality.

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Daily Double: The last executions in Finland

Add comment September 2nd, 2014 Headsman

Days before tapping out of the “Continuation War”, a bid to retake lost territory from the Soviets that put Finland in the discomfiting World War II position of Third Reich ally, its military conducted the last executions in that country’s history.

Finland had fought the bitter Winter War against the USSR in 1939-1940, a war that stalemated in the field but saw the Soviets push back the Finnish border — most particularly out of Finnish Karelia, which for Russia had always been worryingly close to Leningrad.

The cost of the USSR’s cozier security perimeter was, for Finland, 26,000 dead,* 420,000 refugees, about one-eleventh of the Finnish land mass, and one hell of a grudge. The period following the Winter War is known as the “Interim Peace,” and the interim lasted until Nazi Germany attacked the USSR on June 22, 1941. As German tanks raced across the frontier further south, the Finns — who had been armed by the Germans during the temporary peace — surged back into the Karelian isthmus. The reader will notice, as many did at the time, that despite the “continuation” branding, this installment of the conflict was an offensive war of Finland’s choosing, which put it in a different light from the foregoing heroic defense of the homeland.

In the three years that followed, while all of Europe fell into a bloodbath, Finland fought the Soviet Union almost privately, a side event in which the respective countries’ allied coalitions only barely intervened. Finland had been banking on the German attack delivering a quick knockout that would leave the Russian-controlled territories of a prospective greater Finland there for the gathering. When that proved not to be the case, the two old adversaries were back into the same brutal slog they’d had in the Winter War, heavy with irregular warfare. (Future Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov fought as a partisan in this conflict.)

In terms of the military-political outcome, Finland managed to extricate itself from the war much more gracefully than most of the Axis-allied countries who tangled with the Red Army. It struck a September 19, 1944 armistice that restored most of Karelia to the USSR (along with some new territory) and cut ties with Berlin, while avoiding postwar Soviet occupation. As a western democracy, Finland was still quite friendly with the many western Allies with which it was formally at war, and everyone — except the Russians, of course — preferred to keep the country out of Stalin’s orbit for the years to come.

But almost up the eve of that armistice, Finnish forces conducted hundreds of executions — the true number is uncertain — both of their own deserters and draft-resisters, and of captured Soviet irregulars.** In the field, these were often summary or nearly so, just as they had been when the Russian Revolution spilled over into a Finnish civil war with Communist “Red Guards”.

As rude as these last-second executions were, they turned out to be the very last executions in Finnish history: that country’s postwar turn towards social democracy where capital punishment is practically unthinkable is well-known. Finland abolished the death penalty for all peacetime crimes in 1949, for all crimes full stop in 1972, and wrote the abolition into its constitution in 2000.

* The Soviets lost far more — something like 5 times the number dead — to the rugged Finnish defenders. Had Finland’s defenses broken, it’s possible Moscow could have overrun and annexed the whole country.

** Finland captured over 60,000 Soviet soldiers. Some 30% of them died in Finnish POW camps, and some were executed by the Soviets upon repatriation.

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Entry Filed under: Daily Doubles,Milestones

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Daily Double: Scenes from the Purge

Add comment July 28th, 2014 Headsman

Most any sequence of days on the calendar would do for capturing Soviet citizens destroyed in Stalin’s terrible purges of the late 1930s. There are, of course, the great names — Zinoviev, the Old Bolshevik senior to Stalin; the Red Army Marshal Tukhachevsky; eventually, inevitably, also the security minister who had run the bloodbath at its peak.

1937 propaganda poster: “Eradicate spies and saboteurs! Trotsky-Bukharin agents of fascism. (via)

Beneath the headline names are people by the aching thousands whose tragedies blacken date after date.

From our distance, they are little but a blur in the impossibly vast register of fatalistic mugshots — men and women high and low ripped from the forgotten banality of their lives, delivered to unspeakable tortures lost in the lines of endless dusty archives. Those we touch the next two days were loyal Communist functionaries and people of national importance in their spheres.

To be fair, only the specialist today has any cause to remember the names of their 1930s opposite numbers in France, Britain, or America, political operatives with competent careers who faded away giving university lectures instead of being beat all to hell and shot in a cellar. But to contemporaries in Stalin’s Russia these were people who wielded authority and prestige; their destructions would have been stunning were not midnight knocks emptying Muscovite apartments by the thousands in those days, and anyone — everyone — understood that he might be next.

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Daily Double: Victorian Soldiery

Add comment March 29th, 2014 Headsman

For the next two days, we draw a pair of odd cases from the ranks of Her Majesty’s men at arms.

Recently spooked by debacles in the Crimean War and a barely-suppressed Indian mutiny — both of which strained the army’s entire manpower — Britain’s Secretary of War spent the late 1860s and early 1870s putting the empire on new military footing.

These “Cardwell Reforms” ramped up recruitment, lowered enlistment barriers, eliminated inefficiencies and shifted more self-defense burdens onto Commonwealth dominions. (This is also when the Royal Navy got rid of flogging.)

The result was a British army both larger and leaner, and better-suited to its task of running the Pax Britannia.

Our next two days find two products of that force making their unfortunate intersection with another field’s titan of industrial-age rationalization: William Marwood, the dread hangman even then in the process of introducing the long drop and moving the ancient art of hanging towards a rational formula for scientifically breaking a man’s neck.


A consummate professional (this is his business card), Marwood insisted on the description of “executioner” — not “hangman”.

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