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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1951: Sandor Szucs, Hungarian footballer

Add comment June 4th, 2019 Headsman

Twenty-nine-year-old footballer Sandor Szucs was hanged on this date in 1951 for attempting to defect from communist Hungary.

The defender for Ujpest FC, who had also featured internationally for the emerging national team juggernaut destined for legend as the Golden Team, Szucs embarked a politically dangerous extramarital affair with singer Erzsi Kovacs.

When the two attempted to flee the country together, they were arrested just this side of the Yugoslavian border. Kovacs spent four years in prison — she would go on to a successful international career — while Szucs was harshly sentenced to death as a traitor on the strength of a murky military law that had been invoked in no other case. His comrades from the pitch found that their pull did not extend to any effectual aid for him.

It’s presumed that Szucs’s execution was at least in part meant as a warning to these very same mates not to exploit the international team’s travels for any embarrassing defections.

If so, they were right to worry: when the Hungarian Revolution erupted in 1956 while the Golden Team’s primary club mirror was playing an away match in Belgium, several players refused to return to their Soviet-occupied homeland, including superstars Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,History,Hungary,Sex,Treason

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1952: Jan Bula, Czechoslovakian priest

Add comment May 20th, 2019 Headsman

Catholic priest Jan Bula was hanged on this date in 1952 at Jihlava

A Rokytnice pastor, Bula (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Czech and German) put himself in the gunsights of the postwar Communist state by defying its strictures on proselytization and commenting publicly against them.

Although perhaps a gadfly from the state’s perspective he was by no means a dissident consequential enough to have merited his eventual treatment; however, he was cruelly rolled into a notorious 1951 show trial called the Babice Case. Occasioned by a fatal raid launched by anti-Communist terrorists, the Babice trials targeted a huge number of ideological enemies and eventually resulted in 107 convictions and 11 death sentences.* Bula was among them, speciously condemned a traitor for complicity in the attack — a move that also opportunistically accelerated a case that state agents had for some time been attempting with little success to construct by means of entrapment.

“We human beings do not love God enough,” he wrote in a letter to his parents before his hanging. “That is the only thing for which we must ask forgiveness.”

The Catholic Church is currently considering this modern martyr for beatification.

* After the Cold War these sentences were retrospectively overturned or reduced, and a judge in the Babice case, Pavel Vitek, was prosecuted for his role in it.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Religious Figures,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1958: Istvan Angyal, Hungarian revolutionary

Add comment December 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1958, Angyal Istvan was hanged for the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution.

A working-class Jew who survived Auschwitz as a boy — his mother and sister were not so fortunate — Angyal was a convinced leftist who became disaffected with the Hungarian regime not because of its Communism but because of its failure to realize the democratic and egalitarian aspirations of that ideology.

A fixture on the youthful intellectual ferment in Budapest in the early 1950s, he was one of the leaders of street protests against Soviet domination during the doomed Hungarian Revolution of 1956, even conferring personally with Prime Minister Imre Nagy during its last days. In a gesture that not all of his comrades would have supprted, he set out the hammer and sickle along with the Hungarian national flag on November 7, the very eve of the revolution’s defeat, arguing to Soviet troops that they were fighting against true communism.

He’s commemorated today at an Angyal István Park in Budapest; it’s evidently “a modern social place with free Internet” and a nifty paper plane art installation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Hungary,Jews,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1949: Nicolae Dabija, anti-communist partisan

Add comment October 28th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1949, the Romanian anti-communist partisan Nicolae Dabija (English Wikipedia entry | Romanian) was shot at Sibiu, along with six other members* of that resistance.

Although cousin to Romania’s pre-Ceausescu Communist ruler Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Dabija — not to be confused with the 19th century general of that name nor with the latter-day Moldova M.P. of the same name — charted a distinctly separate ideological course.

He was decorated for his service on the Axis’s Eastern Front during World War II, but this same credential got him expelled from the army in the postwar Red takeover.

Nothing daunted, Dabija and some like-minded comrades** formed an armed anti-communist militia a few dozen strong in Transylvania’s Apuseni Mountains named the National Defense Front, Haiducian Corps — a nod to the Balkans’ historical outlaws/rebels. The Securitate reduced them over the course of 1948-1949 months, culminating in a March 3-4, 1949 forest battle that brought Dabija et al into custody.

* Ioan Scridon, Traian Mihaltan, Titus Onea, Augustin Ratiu, Gheorghe Oprita, Silvestru Bolfea. (Source)

** Brothers with the apt surname Macavei.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Revolutionaries,Romania,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists

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1961: Rokotov and Faibishenko, black marketeers

Add comment July 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1961,* two 22-year-old Soviet men were — very much to their surprise — shot as black market currency speculators.

Ian Timofeyevich Rokotov and Vladik Petrovich Faibishenko were leaders of a small ring of illicit currency traders who made their bones swapping Soviet rubles with foreign visitors at a handsome markup, earning “wealth” on the scale of moderate personal ease that seems laughable compared to their homeland’s present-day oligarchy. Among this nine-person ring, authorities recovered 344,000 Russian rubles plus about $19,000 in gold coins and a few thousands each of various western European currencies.

These deeds augmented the inherently parasitic act of profiteering by the inherently subversive act of making unchaperoned contact with foreign visitors, at a moment when the Soviet state was particularly sensitive to both infractions. This was nearly the exact apex of the Cold War, in the tense months between the U-2 Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis.** “Peaceful coexistence,” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a 1961 address, means “intense economic, political, and ideological struggle between the proletariat and the aggressive forces of imperialism in the world arena.”

In a 13-day trial concluding on June 15, Rokotov and Faibishenko were sentenced along with another of their circle, Nadia Edlis, to 15 years in prison. You might think that’s a stern message sent, but the excitable Khrushchev took an almost personal offense to their behavior and on viewing the intentionally nettlesome exhibition of the black marketeers’ banknote heaps, exclaimed, “They need to be shot for this!”

The minor matter of having no capital statute on the books for the occasion was resolved on July 1 by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which introduced the death penalty for major economic crimes; the statute was then immediately deployed to retroactive effect in a new trial before the Russian Republic Supreme Court.

Many people more would face capital punishment for economic crimes under that 1961 law.

* The official execution date is elusive but press reports indicate that the Soviet news agency TASS announced it on July 26. Given that their final condemnation had occurred only five days previous, we fall at worst within a narrow margin of error.

** Also of note: the USSR had just revalued the ruble as of January 1, 1961.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Pelf,Russia,Shot,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1951: Arno Esch, liberal

Add comment July 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1951, liberal East German activist Arno Esch was shot in Lubyanka Prison outside of Moscow.

Plaque at the University of Rostock honoring Esch. (cc) image by Schiwago.

Just 17 when World War II ended, Esch emerged as a leading student activist for the Liberal Democratic Party in the postwar Soviet Occupation Zone — a pacifist who advocated political liberalization and civil rights.

These weren’t times for any common fronts: “a liberal Chinese is closer to me than a German communist,” Esch remarked, denoting a clear and present danger in the communist zone: his party attempted in vain to form a coalition across the nascent Iron Curtain with its like-minded brethren in the western zones.

Esch was arrested in 1949 and prosecuted as a spy and counterrevolutionary by a Soviet military tribunal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot

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1955: Gerhard Benkowitz and Hans-Dietrich Kogel, of the KgU

Add comment June 29th, 2018 Headsman

Anti-Communist resistance fighters Gerhard Benkowitz and Hans-Dietrich Kogel were executed by East Germany on this date in 1955.

Benkowitz

The two Weimar civil servants — respectively a teacher and a municipal statistics analyst — Benkowitz and Kogel both affiliated with the Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (KgU) which you could translate as Combat Group Against Inhumanity, a western-backed spy/sabotage network harassing the Communist regime.

The KgU’s resistance ran more to the informational rather than the kinetic, but Benkowitz and Kogel both admitted to scouting a railroad bridge in Weimar for a potential bombing target. They were induced by the promise of sparing their lives to play the desired role of penitent auto-denunciator for their joint show trial; the promise, as will be inferred by their presence in these annals, was not honored.

Although the KgU’s West Berlin brain trust was safe from the vengeance of the Stasi, arrests and infiltration of its informer network in east put an end to this organization before the 1950s were out.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Espionage,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Spies,Terrorists,Treason

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1963: Four CIA saboteurs in Cuba

Add comment November 12th, 2017 Headsman

Cuba executed thirteen people in the course of this week in 1963 as CIA agents. This date marked the middle group, as detailed in the Nov. 13, 1963 New York Times:

HAVANA, Nov. 12 (UPI) — Four more Cubans were executed by firing squads today as “agents” of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Five other Cuban [sic] accused as “CIA agents” were executed last Friday.

The victims today were identified as Antonio Cobelas Rodriguez, Orlando Sanchez Saraza, Juan M. Milian Rodriguez and Jose S. Bolanos Morales.

An official announcement said that they had been captured while trying to sneak ashore from an armed boat that sailed from Marathon, in the Florida Keys, on an undisclosed date.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Shot,Terrorists

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1952: Johann Burianek, East German saboteur

Add comment August 2nd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1952, Johann Burianek became the first person executed by East Germany.

A machinist and a World War II Wehrmacht soldier, Burianek (English Wikipedia entry | German) caught a one-year sentence in the postwar Communist East Germany for having the misbegotten initiative in the dying days of the war to go out of his way to arrest a deserter who was nearly executed as a result.

From about 1950 he became affiliated with the western-backed anti-communist resistance network Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (KgU) — Strike Force Against Inhumanity. Crossing liberally between East and West Berlin, which easy movement East German authorities were fretting, Burianek had a two-year stint irritating the German Democratic Republic with graffiti, subversive posters, and eventually, sabotage.

He was arrested in March 1952 shortly ahead of what would have been his derringest do, the bombing of a rail bridge; a judge named Hilde Benjamin, who in the course of 1950s show trials made her name synonymous with politically motivated severity,* hammered him with a demonstrative sentence** — the very first judicial execution meted out by the DDR, in fact. It was administered in Dresden by beheading with a fallbeil.

* Benjamin, who died on the eve of the Berlin Wall‘s fall, enjoys a poor reputation in the post-Cold War state with a variety of uncomplimentary sobriquets to prove it — such as the “Red Guillotine” and “Red Freisler“.

** She would also impose the death sentence against a fellow KgU operative, Wolfgang Kaiser, who went under the fallbeil five weeks after Burianek.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Terrorists,Treason

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