Friday, June 23, 2006
Heads Will Roll...
A recent article, “Confessions of an Executioner,” published on June 3, 2006, in The Saudi Gazette, will not show up in ANY search I do so that I can do a “link.” Oddly, I remember seeing a very similar article shortly after we moved to The Sandbox. The Saudi Gazette may well keep this particular article archived and dust it off on a regular basis, lest one forget that certain crimes truly are punished by beheading.
Often times, reading articles in The Saudi Gazette, they refer to what must be a companion / sister paper, Okaz. I did find this paper, and unfortunately, it is ONLY in Arabic. [Yes, I do believe I am close to being an expert in reading, writing and speaking Arabic – I have taken two sixteen week courses! – but I’m not quite expert enough to be able to do a search, and even if I COULD do the search, if I found the article, it would take me weeks, months, possibly years to translate it from Arabic to English.] I really didn’t want to have to type this, but here goes… From The Saudi Gazette:
ABDULLAH Sa’id Al-Bishi is an executioner. It’s a role he inherited from his father.
Al-Bishi, who is currently the second oldest executioner working for the Ministry of Interior as he has been practicing since the year 1412 H (1991-92), and took up the job after assisting his father for many years.
“My role was to obey the orders of my father. Sometimes, he would ask me to reposition the subject in preparation for the execution,” he told the Arabic language daily Al-Hayat. [This paper, with a very limited English version, did not come up with this article in a search, either.]
The job of the executioner is not only to carry out the death sentence, Al-Bishi said. The swordsman is also a kind-of-counselor [yeah, I bet he his!], sometimes approaching relatives of a murder victim and reminding them they can pardon the convicted up until the very last moment. [After that – oops, too late!] Al-Bishi related an incident when his father was an executioner and was preparing to carry out a death sentence on a young expatriate awaiting execution for killing a friend. The mother of the victim repeatedly declined to pardon the killer of her child.
“My father had a hunch that the heart of this bereaved mother could soften up,” Al-Bishi said. “[My father] walked up to her, with his sword in his hand, and told her that the head of the young man awaiting execution would separate from his body in a few seconds’ time, but that she could raise her hand any time before that if she decided to pardon the killer.”
“She was adamant still and as my father lifted the sword for the last time to go through with the execution, the mother of the victim raised her hand to motion to my father that she had pardoned the murderer,” Al-Bishi continued. “The crowd rushed towards her, cheering and saying that God the Almighty is great, and prayed for her to rest in paradise as a reward for her forgiveness.”
Three times, he’s been able to convince families of victims to pardon the murders after everything was ready for the execution.
“I can tell from the expression on the faces of the victims’ family members if they are considering pardon,” Al-Bishi explained.
He used to attend his father’s executions so he could do them himself in the future, Al-Bishi explained, in order to fulfill his father’s wish to prepare him for the job if he wanted it. [Gives new meaning to “following in your Father’s footsteps!”]
The first time he carried out a death sentence on his own, Al-Bishi says that everything went normally, and that he was able to wield the sword without any problems. [Well, thank goodness, for the poor criminal’s sake!]
Al-Bishi said he usually receives a number of death threats before and after executions. However, he said he does not worry about his personal safety or the safety of his family because he does follows [sic] both the State and Islamic law.
“I find these threat letters in my mail box but they [sic] are so many that I don’t give them any attention. I even turned down the Ministry of Interior’s offer to provide me with security guards,” he said.
There are a number of myths told about Saudi executioners and executions, Al-Bishi said. Some executioners become “deranged” after an execution. A typical Saudi executioner is a fierce person who acts on impulse and emotion. Those scheduled to be beheaded are so sedated they hardly even know where they are.
“All fairy tales,” Al-Bishi said, dismissing those myths. Al-Bishi said the only sedated people he deals with are those who are going to lose hands or feet, and not those scheduled to lose their heads.
“People get the impression that those awaiting execution are sedated because they collapse and become unable to move. However, they can sense and feel everything that goes around [sic] them,” he said.
But years of dealing with those sentenced to death, Al-Bishi said that some break down completely and do not utter a single word until they are actually executed [huh?] while others appear to hallucinate. Others still recite verses from the Qur’an and loudly repent, admitting publicly that they deserve to be killed as punishment for what they have done.
“The person to be executed is brought up with his or her hands tied behind the back. The person is made to sit down at the spot where the execution is to take place. An official appointed by the court then steps forward and reads out the verdict and all relevant details,” Al-Bishi said when describing a typical execution. [Lopping of someone’s head, typical? Yeah, okay.]
Following the execution, a physician is summoned to examine the body and ascertain death. The body is then taken away for burial. [And, the head? Where is the head taken?]
In the case of a “disciplinary killing,” a punishment for particularly nasty crimes, the executioner is required to use more than one blow in order to make the punishment for painful. [WTF?!?] “This is only in the cases of heinous crimes,” Al-Bishi said, adding that ordinarily, one blow is enough.
Just like any other professional, the executioner has a number of tools he uses, and not all of them are swords. [Razor blades? Hedge clippers? A table saw? What else could you possibly use?]
However, the sword is the most important, Al-Bishi explained. He said there are two kinds of swords executioners use: The Al-Jawhar, which is made in India, and the second is made in Egypt. Prices range between SR33,000 and SR 70,000 each.*
Al-Bishi said he picks his own weapons, including a personal pistol.
Those weapons are necessary because sometimes an execution does not go smoothly. [Yikes!]
“My sword broke once in the neck of an individual. On that day, there were five people awaiting execution,” Al-Bishi said. [Don’t ‘cha just hate when THIS happens! Yeah, this WOULD make for a bad day...]
Al-Bishi said the human skull is very hard, hard enough to break a fast moving sword. If this happens, Al-Bishi explained that execution cannot be halted and that he has to continue until the sentence is carried out. [Sweet Mother of God!!!]
On of the most cherished belongings passed on by his father is the sword used to execute Al Jehiman, the leader of a group of rebels who occupied the Holy Mosque in Makkah for two weeks in the month of Muharram 1400 H (November 1979) and “terrorized” all peace-seeking worshippers.
Al-Bishi said that Saudi executions are also the focus of a great deal on international attention, based on the concern some in the West for the human rights of the of the people executed [sic].
“A number of Brittish and US nationals came to identify the manner in which religious executions are carried out in Saudi Arabia where the canons of the Shariah are followed,” he said. “They witnessed everything, beginning with intervention by reconciliation panels and the attempts made at pardoning those executed and ending with the execution itself.”
Al-Bishi also trains other executioners, and has trained six who are currently awaiting official appointment and stand prepared to carry out executions, if need be, in several areas of the Kingdom. It also takes time to train a new executioner in how to use the sword properly and ensure that a death sentence is carried out mercifully as possible.
“When we have four or five people on the death row, it becomes necessary to use ‘unofficial’ executioners who have spent six full months of training and were pronounced by the vetting committee as fit to be executioners,” he said.
A trainee must have two essential attributes: being quick witted and far sighted. [That’s it!?! Nothing about needing to be coordinated? Or, perhaps, good with a kitchen knife? Not to mention a very strong stomach!] During their training period, they assist by carrying out several chores, including carrying the head of the executed person. [Well, this answers my question from above, i.e., burial of the body and what happens to the head.]
Al-Bishi himself does not hesitate before agreeing to go to any place in Saudi Arabia, including remote areas, noting that in case several people are to be executed on the same day and in different areas, a three-day notice must be served to allow him to come early. [But of course…]
He even has a special sword he uses on days when five or more people are to be executed: “Al-Sultan,” a 100-year-old sword. “It is the strongest and can never go lame,” Al-Bishi said. [Yes, we wouldn’t want for another sword to break in the neck of an individual. Best to use, “Al-Sultan, on those really busy days!]
Well, there, now… That wasn’t really too bad. And by typing it in myself, I was able to add just a bit of [my own] commentary where I thought it was necessary. So, it all worked out. Now if I can get the #%*$@ picture to load properly…
*SR33,000 = $8,847.18 U.S. Dollars
SR70,000 = $18,766.75 U.S. Dollars
Wow. That’s an awful lot for a sword, isn’t it? But then, for a profession such as this, I guess you’d want nothing but the “Wusthof” of swords. [Oh, my gosh, really, NO pun intended there! Let’s make that a Henckel...]