The gas chamber
Introduced in the United States around 1900, this method consists of binding the condemned man to a chair inside a sealed chamber. A stethoscope attached to the chest is connected to headphones in the adjoining room, where witnesses can follow the execution of the convict. Death is procured through the release into the air of cyanide, introduced through a tube that ends under the chair of the condemned (Gawande, 2006). Here begins the chemical reaction that leads to the formation of the gas: two sodium cyanide tablets are thrown into sulfuric acid; the hydrocyanic acid that develops, due to the exothermic reaction, evaporates and saturates the environment. Death comes by asphyxiation because cyanide inhibits the action of respiratory enzymes that transfer oxygen from the blood to the cells of the body. Generally, the state of unconsciousness quickly takes over, but it can delay if the prisoner tries to prolong his life by holding his breath or breathing slowly. It may happen that the vital organs continue to function even if the condemned person is unconscious; the average survival time is between 8 and 10 minutes.
Introduced for the first time during the American Revolutionary War to execute prisoners and deserters, execution is today the most used in the world, particularly in Russia and China. It can be performed at the hands of a single person or several individuals. In the latter case, we speak of firing squad, a method admitted by 29 countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa.
The electric chair
With this method, the condemned man is seated on a special chair and in this position he is applied electrodes moistened to the head and calf (after shaving the parts to ensure adherence). They are then transmitted strong discharges of the alternating electric current of varying duration, progressively increasing the voltage (from 500 to 2,000 volts): in this way, the death is caused by cardiac arrest and respiratory paralysis (Amnesty International, 2017). Usually, there are two discharges: the first serves to make the condemned unconscious, causing brain death. The second, with greater tension, destroys internal organs and causes total death. In the United States, there is a debate about whether to reintroduce it.
It was first documented in England in 1214 AD when the son of a nobleman was hanged for piracy. The performer places the noose around the convict's neck, opens a trapdoor and the prisoner falls. The fall should cause the rupture of the III and IV cervical vertebra or cause asphyxia. To avoid accidental decapitation, the executioner adjusts the length of the rope according to the weight of the convict.
Nape shot and beheading
Still used today in China is to give the condemned a pistol shot to the back of the head. This method is expected in 23 countries, particularly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. In the past, the possibility of introducing this method to the United States has also been discussed. The decapitation, however, was very widespread in the ancient and medieval world, replaced at the end of the eighteenth century by the guillotine in France. Today it is used in Saudi Arabia with the use of a sword.
Fall in the void and stoning
The first method, provided only in Iran, consists in launching the condemned man into a void. Stoning is allowed in nine countries (Indonesia, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen), many of which consider it applicable only for particular sex-related offenses, such as adultery, homosexual relationships, rape, and incest (Amnesty International, 2017). The method consists in throwing stones on the condemned stone throwing and often such torture occurs with the participation of the crowd. In stoning the condemned man is wrapped in a white shroud and buried up to his waist, if it is a man, and up to his chest, if it is a woman.
Syringe and catheter
The injection of a lethal dose of poison was first used in Oklahoma and Texas in 1977. It is still considered one of the most "human" methods of capital execution. After the usual procedures (last appointment with relatives, last meal, shower, and change of clothes), the condemned man is tied to a litter and transported to the cell of death. A nurse or doctor introduces a catheter into the condemned vein, to which he is allowed to pronounce the last statement. Prison officials who will have to execute him are in another room. They begin to introduce a neutral solution into the rubber torches that connect the catheter to the drip. Then they replace it with poison (e.g. potassium chloride). About half an hour passes from the introduction of the catheter into the vein to the injection of the poison. Sometimes the poison is contained in a syringe out of three, without the hangman knowing in which (as for example in the firing squads a rifle can be loaded with blanks).
This method has been in use since the late 1930s in the USA, but in the same period, the Nazis also adopted it. The gas chamber is a hermetically sealed steel room, inside which there are two steel chairs (sometimes the condemned are killed in pairs because this is "economic"). The condemned man puts a bandage at chest level, with a stethoscope, to hear the beating of the heart. In fact, a rubber torch was attached to the stethoscope, which leads to the adjacent room, where a doctor is found who must be sure of death (Amnesty International, 2017). Then the door is closed. Gauze bags had already been attached to the chairs with 16 cyanide granules in each. Sometimes a simulated test is performed before the execution, to check its functionality, with rats or rabbits. With the help of a remote-controlled mechanism, the bags are immersed in tanks with acid. The very rapid reaction releases the toxic gas.
The gallows: Used by Bangladesh, Botswana, North Korea, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Syria, and Sudan.
The shot: Used by China, Libya, Syria, Vietnam, and Yemen.
The decapitation: Employed by Saudi Arabia.
The stoning: Applied by Iran.
Electrocution: Used in the United States
Lethal injection: Used by China, the United States, and Thailand.
In the specific case of the United States, in the past year, the firing squad has also been registered as a method to execute the death penalty.
No society can count on the infallibility of its courts. Judges can make mistakes, even in good faith (often because they are conditioned by the dominant mentality, which can be charged with political, ideological, racial, religious, ethnic prejudices, etc.). E.g. in the southern states of the USA the death sentence for carnal violence is almost inevitable for a black man (if the victim is white) and less likely for a white man (quite unlikely if the victim is black). Moreover, the poor of the rich is more easily condemned, that is to say, he who has no means of paying for expert lawyers.
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