Posts filed under 'Torture'

1595: Robert Southwell

Add comment February 21st, 2019 Headsman

February 2O, 1594-5, [Father Robert] Southwell, a Jesuit, that long time had lain prisoner in the Tower of London, was arraigned at the King’s-bench bar. He was condemned, and on the next morning drawn from Newgate to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered.

-Chronicle of John Stow

Youngest child in a gentry household of Catholic-leaning Norfolk, Robert Southwell was for holy orders and martyr’s laurels from the jump; in 1576 at the tender age of 15, he made for Douai and its English seminary, noted for training missionary priests who would return secretly to Elizabethan England to court torture and death for the Word. Within a decade he was a prefect at the English College in Rome and a fully armed and operational member of the Society of Jesus.

In 1586, Southwell sailed for his homeland with fellow Jesuit Henry Garnet, who would one day go to the gallows for Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot.

For Southwell, the pen was mightier than such detonations.

“St. Peter’s Complaint” (Excerpt)
by Robert Southwell

Ah! life, sweet drop, drown’d in a sea of sours,
A flying good, posting to doubtful end;
Still losing months and years to gain new hours,
Fain times to have and spare, yet forced to spend;
Thy growth, decrease; a moment all thou hast.
That gone ere known; the rest, to come, or past.

Ah! life, the maze of countless straying ways,
Open to erring steps and strew’d with baits.
To bind weak senses into endless strays,
Aloof from Virtue’s rough, unbeaten straits
A flower, a play, a blast, a shade, a dream,
A living death, a never-turning stream.

Quietly nestled in as the house confessor to Catholic noblewoman Anne Howard, Southwell scratched out page after page to fortify the hearts of the beleaguered Old Faith — standard stuff like martyrology testimony concerning his brother priests, overt manifestos like An humble supplication to Her Maiestie, and literary bestsellers admired by Protestant countrymen like Mary Magdalene’s Funeral Tears and his verse collection St. Peter’s Complaint, and Other Poems.*

This last appeared posthumously. After three years’ imprisonment — “I am decayed in memory with long and close imprisonment, and I have been tortured ten times,” the imminent martyr said of his handling by notorious Catholic-hunter Richard Topcliffe; “I had rather have endured ten executions” — Southwell was brought to the bar on February 20, 1595, to answer as a traitor and put to the traitor’s death the very next day.

Though less widely familiar now, his literary output was well-known and highly regarded long after he died, and perhaps influenced many other writers including Shakespeare. The Catholic Church elevated Southwell to sainthood in 1970.

* A couple of Southwell’s epistles are preserved in the 1741 volume Memoirs of Missionary Priests.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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1919: Heinrich Bosse

Add comment February 16th, 2019 Headsman

German pastor Heinrich Bosse died for the evangelium at Bolshevik hands 100 years ago today.

Bosse followed his grandfather and father into the clergy and took up a posting to Riga in the last years of the 19th century. Today Riga is the capital of Latvia; at the time, it was a port in the Russian empire — but the former Hanseatic city was heavily German-populated, as it had been for centuries.

This was not an ideal vocation when Latvia’s declaration of independence at the end of World War I triggered Bolshevik invasion. By March 1919, Red forces controlled most of the country. Now, over the months to come the civil war would expel the Communists and secure independence for Latvia, at least for the interwar period.

But none of that big-picture stuff would help Reverend Bosse.

Latvian Bolsheviks had a grudge against Bosse for (so they believed) informing on one of their number who’d been executed by German forces occupying the city during the late World War. A revolutionary tribunal accordingly condemned him to death after a bout of torture; he was taken out of his cell on February 16, 1919, and shot in an unknown location.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Latvia,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Russia,Shot,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1945: Walraven van Hall, banker to the Resistance

Add comment February 12th, 2019 Headsman

Wally van Hall, the Dutch banker, fraudster, and national hero, was executed by the Nazi occupation on this date in 1945.

Walraven — to use his proper given name — was born into a well-heeled family, the brother of eventual Amsterdam mayor Gijs van Hall.

The man’s expertise in the occult crafts of banking gained an unexpected heroic cast during World War II when Wally became the “banker to the Resistance,” quietly sluicing the funds needed to support anti-occupation movements.

Notably, he plundered the present-day equivalent of a half-billion Euro from the Dutch National Bank by swapping fraudulent bad bonds for good ones.

This profession was no less dangerous for being so esoteric. He was betrayed by an informer who was himself executed in revenge by the Resistance; van Hall has posthumously received his country’s Cross of Resistance as well as Israel’s recognition as Righteous Among the Nations for his aid to Dutch Jews. He’s the subject of the 2018 film The Resistance Banker.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Theft,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1610: Pierre Canal, Geneva sodomite

Add comment February 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1610* a Genevan official named Pierre Canal was twice capitally punished — broken on the wheel (for treason) and burned (for sodomy).

A longtime city official, as well as an Italian-educated doctor, Canal was progeny of city worthies. Although his own father was a hero of L’Escalade, Geneva’s successful defense against a 1602 attack on Geneva by the Duke of Savoy,** Canal was rounded up for alleged adherence to Savoy’s threatened (never executed) Escalade sequel in 1610.

Under torture for treason, he also copped to dozens of homosexual liaisons over many years, a behavior that he said he’d picked up in Italy.†

Canal’s roster of names named became fodder for a sodomy-hunt spasm in the ensuing months. At least three of his claimed lovers confessed under torture and were executed, and a fourth only survived because he managed to break jail. Others either withstood torture without admitting to an affair, or managed to confine their stipulated activities to non-capital versions of the perversions, such as oral sex without ejaculation. (The latter class ended up with punishments ranging from fines to banishment, but got to keep their limbs.)‡ Echoes of the affair continued in now-queer-vigilant Geneva in the form of several additional prosecutions running until 1623.

* Sources I’ve found are keenly divided between a February 2 and a February 3 execution.

The dispositive primary source, The Archives d’etat de Geneve Proces Criminels, does not appear to me to be digitized for the public, notwithstanding the canton’s exhibitions of a few choice artifacts. I’m going with the 2nd, gingerly, because the secondary sources that seem the most rigorous and credible (such as this Swiss historical dictionary and to me tend towards that date.

** The Escalade is the event commemorated in the Genevan “national” anthem “Cé qu’è l’ainô”.

† We’ve seen gay sex euphemized as le vice italien in the 19th century British navy, too.

‡ Canal named over 20 people, though not all were pursued. There are thirteen additional people named for prosecution by Judicial Tribunals in England and Europe, 1200-1700: Abel Benoit (20, soldier), Francois Felisat (24, carder), Pierre Gaudy (18, porter), George Plongon (25, Sieur Bellerive), Mathieu Berjon (36, printer), Antoine Artaut (30, carder), Jean Bedeville (23), Paul Berenger (23, tailor), Noelle Destelle (25, baker), Jean Maillet (61), Paul Andre (23), Claude Bodet (45, baker), Jean Buffet (23, tailor).

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Doctors,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Homosexuals,Politicians,Public Executions,Sex,Switzerland,Torture,Treason

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2003: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri mock-executed at CIA black site

Add comment January 1st, 2019 Headsman

Around this time — “sometime between 28 December 2002 and 1 January 2003” — a CIA debriefer questioning Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a CIA “black site” in Poland mock-executed his prey.

The Saudi national had been captured in October of 2002 and vanished into the 9/11-mad empire’s dark heart of secret torture dungeons scattered across the globe.

He’d already been renditioned to Afghanistan, and then to Thailand, and then onward (for the events of this post) to a onetime Third Reich base in Poland. In Afghanistan he’d been stripped and hanged up by his shackled hands, his toes barely touching the floor. In Thailand, interrogators waterboarded him and locked him in a coffin.* Graphic videos of his treatment in Thailand, at least, once existed; they are among the evidence destroyed by the CIA in 2005 in its successful project to scotch any public accountability for its torture program.

Nashiri stands accused of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, although different intelligence officers characterize him as anything from the “mastermind” to “the dumbest terrorist I ever met.” The only judicial hearing he’s ever had on this matter occurred in abstentia in Yemen in 2004, and resulted in a death sentence. He resides today in America’s forever oubliette at Guantanamo Bay, where a supposed prosecution began in 2011 and has been formally ongoing ever since, mired like all other cases there in the place’s intrinsic juridical incoherence. It seems likely that Nashiri will spend the rest of his days at Guantanamo, his mind a wreck from his ordeals.

One such ordeal, the one qualifying him for consideration by Executed Today, was his feigned execution by handgun and then by power drill — as disclosed by the CIA Inspector General’s report; the quoted excerpt below appears as paragraphs 91 and 92, beginning on page 49 of this pdf. The incident is likewise described in a subsequent Senate Intelligence Committee report, which can be perused here (see p. 98). The name of Nashiri’s mock-executioner is among the many bracketed redactions in this text; it has been publicly reported that the man in question is former CIA and FBI linguist Albert El Gamil.

[     ] interrogation team members, whose purpose it was to interrogate Al-Nashiri and debrief Abu Zubaydah, initially staffed [     ] The interrogation team continued EITs on Al-Nashiri for two weeks in December 2002 [     ] they assessed him to be “compliant.” Subsequently, CTC officers at Headquarters [     ] sent a [     ] senior operations officer (the debrief) [     ] to debrief and assess Al-Nashiri.

[     ]The debrief assessed Al-Nashiri as withholding information, at which point [     ] reinstated [     ] hooding, and handcuffing. Sometime between 28 December 2002 and 1 January 2003, the debriefer used an unloaded semi-automatic handgun as a prop to frighten Al-Nashiri into disclosing information. After discussing this plan with [     ] the debriefer entered the cell where Al-Nashiri sat shackled and racked the handgun once or twice close to Al-Nashiri’s head. On what was probably the same day, the debriefer used a power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri. With [     ] consent, the debriefer entered the detainee’s cell and revved the drill while the detainee stood naked and hooded. The debriefer did not touch Al-Nashiri with the power drill.

Mock execution was not among the menu of torture techniques given legal imprimatur by the Agency, and other interrogators’ protests at his methods led to El Gamil’s removal from the case shortly thereafter.

Sanctioned or no, it is not the only mock execution known to have been inflicted by CIA torturers. Scrolling past seas of black redactions to paragraphs 169-174 of that same Inspector General’s report, we find that

The debriefer who employed the handgun and power drill on Al-Nashiri [     ] advised that those actions were predicated on a technique he had participated in [     ] The debriefer stated that when he was [     ] between September and October 2002, [     ] offered to fire a handgun outside the interrogation room while the debriefer was interviewing a detainee who was thought to be withholding information. [     ] staged the incident, which included screaming and yelling outside the cell by other CIA officers and [     ] guards. When the guards moved the detainee from the interrogation room, they passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot to death.

The debriefer claimed he did not think he needed to report this incident because the [     ] had openly discussed this plan [     ] several days prior to and after the incident. When the debriefer was later [     ] and believed he needed a non-traditional technique to induce the detainee to cooperate he told [     ] he wanted to wave a handgun in front of the detainee to scare him. The debriefer said he did not believe he was required to notify Headquarters of this technique, citing the earlier, unreported mock execution [     ].

A senior operations officer [     ] recounted that around September 2002 [     ] heard that the debriefer had staged a mock execution. [     ] was not present but understood it went badly; it was transparently a ruse and no benefit was derived from it. [     ] observed that there is a need to be creative as long as it is not considered torture. [     ] stated that if such a proposal were made now, it would involve a great deal of consultation. It would begin with [     ] management and would include CTC/Legal, [     ] and the CTC.

The [     ] admitted staging a “mock execution” in the first days that [     ] was open. According to the [     ] the technique was his idea but was not effective because it came across as being staged. It was based on the concept, from SERE school, of showing something that looks real, but is not. The [     ] recalled that a particular CTC interrogator later told him about employing a mock execution technique. The [     ] did not know when this incident occurred or if it was successful. He viewed this technique as ineffective because it was not believable.

Four [     ] who were interviewed admitted to either participating in one of the above-described incidents or hearing ab out them. [     ] described staging a mock execution of a detainee. Reportedly, a detainee who witnessed the “body” in the aftermath of the ruse “sang like a bird.”

[     ] revealed that approximately four days before his interview with OIG, the [     ] stated he had conducted a mock execution [     ] in October or November 2002. Reportedly, the firearm was discharged outside of the building, and it was done because the detainee reportedly possessed critical threat information. [     ] stated that he told the [     ] not to do it again. He stated that he has not heard of a similar act occurring [     ] since then.

* Gina Haspel oversaw the Thailand site at the end of 2002, and her countenancing torture against Nashiri and other detainees there made for a passing controversy when Donald Trump appointed her to direct the Agency.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Poland,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Terrorists,Torture,Uncertain Dates,USA

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A Day in the Death Penalty Around the Martyrology

Add comment December 30th, 2018 Headsman

We’ve paid tribute before to Christian martyrologies’ adroit remembrances of the dead. December 30 furnishes a crowded example from the Roman Breviary, found here:

Upon the 30th day of December were born into the better life —

At Spoleto, under the Emperor Maximian, the holy martyrs Sabinus, bishop of that see; the deacons Exuperantius and Marcellus, and the President Venustian along with his wife and children. Marcellus and Exuperantius were first racked then heavily cudgelled, then mangled with hooks, and their sides were afterwards burnt until they died. Venustian and his wife and children were shortly afterward put to the sword; holy Sabinus had his hands cut off, and was long imprisoned, and at length lashed to death. These did not all suffer at the same time, but they are all commemorated upon the same day.

At Alexandria, the holy martyrs Mansuetus, Severus, Appian, Donatus, Honorius and their companions.

At Thessalonica, the holy martyr Anysia [about the year 303]. There likewise holy Anysius, bishop of that city. [He succeeded S. Ascole, and died about the year 404.]

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Torture,Uncertain Dates

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1328: Willem de Deken, Flemish merchant-rebel

Add comment December 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1328, Willem de Deken, burgomaster of Bruges, had his hands cut off and his neck strung up in Paris for treason.


Belgian illustrator Jean-Leon Heuns‘s 20th century depiction of Willem de Deken.

De Deken was among the leaders of the 1323-1328 Revolt of Coastal Flanders.

“As with most rebellions in Flanders, the revolt was not a straightforward clash of social classes,” notes Medieval Bruges: c. 850-1550.

At first, the protests of the rebels of the castellany of Bruges and other rural districts in coastal Flanders were aimed at the abuses in tax collection by the ruling elites — and more specifically members of the castellany’s noblemen who were thought to be exploiting the commoners to line their own pockets … However, the rising was soon joined by a Bruges coalition of artisans and some disgruntled members of the city’s commercial elite.

De Deken “led a rebellious coalition uniting various social groups though with the textile workers as its backbone”; at one point the rebels even captured Louis, Count of Flanders. (He escaped.)

The rising’s scale brought in the intervention Louis’s French allies,* and the French finally brought Flanders to heel at the Battle of Cassel on August 23, 1328.** De Deken did not have the good sense of his peasant rebel counterpart Nicolaas Zannekin to die at this battle.


The Battle of Cassel, by Hendrik Scheffer (1837).

This was all bad news for the men and women in rebellion in the 1320s but triumph on the Cassel battlefield could not resolve a fundamental contradiction in the Low Countries between Flemish merchants, whose booming wool trade pulled them ever closer to the English cloth industry, and the French-facing political alignment of Count Louis.

Just a few years later when English-French rivalries blossomed into the start of the Hundred Years’ War, a new merchant-rebel succeeded where De Deken had failed, expelling the Count and aligning the Low Countries with England. (Eventually these precincts would become part of the Burgundian patrimony, and those dukes’ running rivalries with the French crown.)

* Times being what they were, French intervention also entailed having the Avignon Pope John XXII pronounce a sacramental interdict against Flanders pending its submission.

** It’s one of several battles of Cassel in northern France, further muddled by several battles of the unrelated but homophonic Cassel/Kassel in Hesse.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Belgium,Burgundy,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Torture,Treason

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1591: Marigje Arriens

Add comment December 18th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1591, the Dutch “witch” Marigje Arriens was burned at the stake.

A 70-year-old Schoonhoven folk healer, Arriens (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was accused of enspelling some little twerp and driven into the whole copulating with Satan in exchange for supernatural powers thing common to many witch trials.

A fairly well-known witch hunt victim, she’s the dedicatee of Swedish metal band Bathory‘s* “Born for Burning”.

* The band’s name of course pays tribute to a whole other historic atrocity.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Netherlands,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1944: The massacres of Wereth and Malmedy, during the Battle of the Bulge

Add comment December 17th, 2018 Headsman

Two mass shootings of U.S. World War II infantrymen in Belgium marked this date in 1944.

It was the second day of the Battle of the Bulge, Nazi Germany’s surprise last offensive in the Ardennes. Hitler, in an inspired albeit ultimately unsuccessful gambit, intended here to burst through the thin-spread Allied line under cover of air power-negating foul weather, and still his western front enemies in time to fortify his east before the Red Army could destroy the Reich.

Needing to inflict a demoralizing lightning defeat, Hitler authorized rougher treatment of POWs than was usual on the western front, resulting in six weeks of savage no-quarter fighting and battlefield atrocities more characteristic of the eastern front. Our focus today is two such instances.

Wereth Eleven

Eleven artillerists from the all-black 333rd Field Artillery Battalion — having taken refuge at a farmhouse in the village of Wereth after their position was overrun during the German offensive — were arrested by the SS on December 17, 1944, taken to a nearby field, and summarily executed.

A monument in Wereth commemorates the massacre. (cc) image from Herald Post.

A villager named Matthias Langer had willingly taken them in, but an informer in the community made the Germans aware of their presence.

So, as dusk fell, a patrol of SS men pulled up to Langer’s home and took the black Americans into custody. They weren’t ever seen alive again.

Their bodies were recovered after Americans recaptured the position weeks later, showing the injuries of gratuitous brutalization inflicted before their murder.

However, the U.S. Army closed its investigation hastily and kept the soldiers’ families in the dark about the nature of the men’s deaths.

It only came to public light many years later thanks to Matthias Langer’s son, Hermann — who was a 12-year-old boy during the Battle of the Bulge but could never shake the haunting sight of the frightened refugees being marched away under German guns.

Malmedy Massacre

About 10 kilometers away on the same day, a column of approximately 120 American POWs was machine-gunned without warning by its German captors in a field near the village of Malmedy — which is where those who survived fled to for safety.

This Malmedy Massacre, which is much the larger and better-known atrocity compared to that of Wereth, claimed 84 lives.*

It also resulted in a postwar death sentence for the German commander Joachim Peiper — although that sentence was never carried out, at least not judicially. Controversially freed in 1956, Peiper was assassinated in 1976: an unknown group calling itself the Avengers claimed credit.


The Malmedy Massacre as depicted in the 1965 film Battle of the Bulge.

* The figure of 72 is sometimes given; this appears to describe the count of bodies initially (in January 1945) recovered in the meadow where the shooting took place. An additional 12 victims of the massacre were discovered in outlying stretches over the following weeks: men who had managed to flee some distance before they were felled. This same unit also massacred other prisoners in the surrounding days.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1718: Avram Lopukhin, Peter the Great’s brother-in-law

Add comment December 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1718, Tsar Peter the Great had his brother-in-law beheaded.

The brother of Peter’s discarded first wife Eudoxia Lopukina, our man Avram Fedorovich Lopukhin (Russian link) had neatly installed himself as a grey eminence of the rebellious Tsarevich Alexei.

It was to this youth Alexei that Old Russia turned its hopes while Peter westernized and modernized the empire. Someday Peter would die, and Alexei would inherit, and the clawback would begin.

Lopukhin foresaw a place of power for himself in Alexei’s Russia. He was an old guard boyar prince, formerly an influential courtier, and he had the blood and the ear of the tsarevich.

That also meant he would share the fate of the tsarevich.

What a disaster for Lopukhin when the truculent Alexei made bold enough to outright break with his father by fleeing Russia — but what was even worse was when Alexei returned.

Investigating the matter as a treason, the famously pitiless Peter did not spare his own child from torture and death; still less would he pardon the others in Alexei’s circle whom his inquisitions revealed to be scheming to overturn Peter’s life’s work, if not his very life.

Seditious correspondence and torture-adduced accusations implicated Lopukhin as just such a figure, and he was tossed into the dungeons of Peter and Paul Fortress to face interrogations, knouting, and execution.

Made to confess to desiring the death of the sovereign, Lopukhin had his head publicly on December 8. It was mounted afterwards on a pike overlooking a public market, and his body exposed on a wheel, until the tsar suffered his kinsman’s remains to be interred in the Lopukhin family crypt the following March.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Torture,Treason

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