“Torture” death of Alabama inmate condemned.
UN Court rules against Israel in genocide case, orders emergency measures.
“Torture” death of Alabama inmate condemned
Yesterday, the state of Alabama put to death Kenneth Eugene Smith using nitrogen hypoxia, a never-before-used method. Human rights advocates, the UN, medical professionals and others had warned that this method of execution would cause a very tortuous death, violating the 8th Amendment of the Constitution which bars cruel and unusual punishment. Smith himself had expressed doubts about the state’s assertions that this would be a humane death. Veterinarians don’t even use nitrogen hypoxia to euthanize animals – other than pigs – due to ethical concerns and potential to cause the animal distress.
Smith’s final statement before his death were “Tonight Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward”. He added, “I’m leaving with love, peace and light. Thank you for supporting me, love all of you.”
The execution took about 25 minutes from beginning to end. Accounts of what happened to Smith differ, depending on the source. On the official side, the story is that this was a human by-the-book execution. John Hamm, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, said the execution took a little longer than expected because it “appeared that Smith was holding his breath as long as he could”. Hamm added that Smith, “struggled against restraints a little bit. But there’ s some involuntary movement and some agonal breathing. That was all expected and was in the side effects that we’ve seen or researched on nitrogen hypoxia. So nothing out of the ordinary from what we were expecting.”
“They intended to torture him”
Other witnesses tell a very different story. They say Smith writhed violently, shaking the whole gurney, for over twenty minutes. Smith’s spiritual advisor, Dr. Jeff Hood, was present in the chamber as Smith was put to death. “I think that anybody that witnessed this knows that we didn’t see someone go unconscious in two or three seconds”. Hood continued, “What we saw was minutes of someone struggling for their life… We also saw cracks in correction officials in the room who were visibly surprised at how bad this thing went.”
“An unbelievable evil was unleashed tonight”, Hood said.
Alabama journalist Lee Hedgepeth said, “I’ve been to four previous executions and I’ve never seen a condemned inmate thrash in the way that Kenneth Smith reacted to the nitrogen gas”.
Joel Zivot, a professor of anaesthesiology at Emory University School of Medicine, said this result was along the lines of what he had expected. Smith “struggled to stay alive as his brain became deprived of oxygen. It is possible he had a seizure at some point and his death was of course slow and agonizing”. Zivot added, “The Alabama department of corrections claims the execution went exactly as they anticipated. Therefore, it can only be concluded that they intended to torture him to death. Further, the use of torture in execution is the definition of cruelty”.
Days before his death, a reporter asked Smith what his greatest fear was about this method of execution. Smith answered, “I fear that it will be successful, and you will have a nitrogen system coming to your state very soon. That’s what I’m worried about.”
Like Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma have also approved nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution.
UN Court rules against Israel in genocide case, orders emergency measures
Earlier this month, the International Court of Justice heard a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of carrying out a genocide in Gaza. Since October 7., shelling, shooting and sniping by the Israeli Defense Forces has killed over 33,000 people (overwhelmingly civilians) in the Palestinian enclave home to about 2.3 million people. Of those, over 7,000 are women and over 13,000 children. Over 64,000 have been wounded with little hope of receiving medical help. Those numbers, while horrific and inexcusable, would not in themselves constitute a genocide.
The 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. On 28 December, South Africa submitted an 84-page brief to the court alleging multiple violations of Article II violations by Israel, including:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
South Africa’s application also included pages and pages of statements expressing genocidal intent by numerous high-ranking Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and President Isaac Herzog.
Court finds plausible case for genocide
Two weeks to the day after the hearings concluded, the ICJ ruled today that there is a plausible case that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. A full ruling on the case will take years. In the meantime, South Africa sought a preliminary injunction from the court to put a halt to Israel’s genocidal acts against the Palestinians. One of the remedies they were seeking was an immediate end to Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
Disappointingly to many, the court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire. However, the court did order Israel to take action to prevent further violations of the Genocide Convention. This included preventing further targeting and harm to civilians.
The court also ordered Israel to increase the flow of aid into Gaza. Nearly 600,000 Gazans are in famine conditions and all of Gaza’s population is facing some level of catastrophic hunger. Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war. UN officials say Israel has blocked 70% of UN aid missions to Gaza this month. If that weren’t enough, for the last several days, families of Israeli hostages believed to be in Gaza have been blocking the sole Israeli aid crossing into the Strip. The families (with the backing of Israeli far-right groups) are demanding an end to aid to Gaza’s civilians to force Hamas to release the hostages. At least some of that aid is ear-marked for the hostages themselves.
Implications for Israel, the US
While the court did not call for an immediate ceasefire, it has certainly put Israel on notice that their actions are being watched closely. The court ordered a report from Israel next month on steps its taken to comply with the court’s orders.
Israel has reacted indignantly to the ruling, accusing the court of antisemitic bias. This is nothing new as Israel frequently labels its critics as “antisemitic,” including the UN and numerous human rights organizations. Israel also has a history of ignoring ICJ rulings. However, the Genocide Convention is a different matter. Findings of genocide, or even plausible genocide, binds every UN member nation to do all it can to prevent “the crime of crimes” from occurring.
The UN Security Council may vote on measures to hold Israel to account. However, the US has a veto on the UNSC, which it has twice used since Oct. 7 to prevent any resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. A State Department spokesperson said today that the US still believes genocide accusations against Israel are “unfounded” despite the ICJ’s overwhelming (15-2) verdict.
Dr. Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Co-operation, welcomed the ICJ’s verdict today but warned that the international community had more work to do. When asked if she believed Israel would comply with the court’s order, Dr. Pandor said bluntly, “I’ve never really been hopeful about Israel”. However, she hoped Israel’s “powerful friends” should encourage it to abide by the order.
Dr. Pandor also noted that once the court has issued its final ruling, if it finds a genocide has been committed, any states that have “aided and abetted” Israel will have made themselves complicit in genocide, a violation of Article III of the Genocide Convention. That would, of course, include the United States and any other countries who have supplied Israel with military or diplomatic support.