You Have Been Sentenced to…Paralysis?

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After a violent fight broke out between two brothers two years ago in Saudi Arabia; one of the brothers was sentenced to seven months in prison during a trial where he did not receive legal representation. But the judge is thinking of adding another punishment — paralysis.

When one brother allegedly attacked the other with a cleaver, the victim was left paralyzed and in turn requested that the punishment for the aggressor resemble his injuries.  The judge in Tabuk, in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, has contacted several hospitals, inquiring as to their capacity to damage the man’s spinal cord in such a way to mimic the injuries of the victim.

One hospital reportedly said it would be possible to medically administer the injury at the same place on the spinal cord as the damage the man is alleged to have caused his victim. The King Khalud Hospital released a medical report saying they could injure the spinal cord with a nerve stimulant causing paralysis .

We have urged the Saudi authorities to not deliberately paralyze the man as punishment as it is a retributive punishment resembling torture.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are absolutely prohibited under international law and violates the United Nations Convention against Torture to which Saudi Arabia is a state party.

Saudi Arabia must not sentence this man to deliberate paralysis and adhere to international law regarding torture and inhumane punishment.

What's Changed?

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It was the early summer doldrums of late June.  The year was 1972.  The number one song was Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue (really??), and the movies that came out that weekend were The Candidate and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (not exactly blockbusters like The Godfather).  But there was some relatively big news – bigger, at least, than the news from twelve days earlier that five men had been arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel.  The bigger news was that the US Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, had banned the death penalty.

It was clear at the time that the Court’s slim majority was not stable.  They all had their own different reasons for voting to nullify the nation’s capital punishment laws.  Two wrote that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual punishment”; another wrote that it was discriminatory; another wrote that it was arbitrary (his exact words were, “freakish and wanton”), and still another doubted that executions met any general need for retribution.

It’s almost 40 years later, and the death penalty continues to discriminate, largely on the basis of the race of the victim.  It also continues to be arbitrary – the vast majority of murders do NOT result in a death sentence, and the limited success of capital prosecutions is often determined, not by the heinousness of the crime, but by where the crime is committed and whether the defendant can hire his own lawyer.  The value of retribution in a punishment carried out so rarely and randomly remains doubtful.  And, as more states abolish the penalty or restrict its use (only 11 states carried out executions last year), and as death sentences continue to decline, the “cruel and unusual” argument carries greater weight

When the death penalty in the US is abolished again (and permanently), the movies may be different (then again they may not), the songs may be different (we can only hope), but the arguments will be pretty much the same.