It's one of the thorniest aspects of the capital punishment issue. And yet we rarely talk about it, hiding our heads in shame, hoping it will go away.
I'm not talking about the legal niceties here, not about what might or might not be cruel and unusual. Ethics schmethics. I'm talking about the "image problem" state-sanctioned killing causes. We all have to be conscious of our image in this Facebook-saturated, twittering society, and governments who kill people are no different. They worry about their image too.
Take, for example, the problem one Ronnie Lee Gardner has caused the good folks in Utah. Gardner was sentenced to death in Utah in 1985. Back then, death-row prisoners got to choose the method of their own execution (hey, it was a more permissive time) and Ronnie Lee chose the old-fashioned firing squad. Fast forward 25 years, and now Utahans (Utah-ites?) don't want to load up the 30-30s "because of the media attention and bad image" they feel firing squads bring to their state. (Quoted NY Times, 4/24) They would prefer that he be strapped to a gurney and pumped full of chemicals. (The NRA, which funds much of Utah politics, has objected strenuously to "this blatent assault on the 2nd ammendment." "Guns are how we've always killed people," an NRA spokeman said, "Not just in Utah, but in every damn state in the nation. Shooting people with guns is one of our most deeply cherished American traditions.")
Or look at the problem the Saudis are now confronting. The Saudis want to kill Ali Hussain Sibat because he was convicted of "sorcery" for, among other things, predicting the future. (Presumably, not his own, or not very successfully). Being a less enlightened society than Utah, Saudi Arabia prefers to execute people by chopping their heads off with a long, curved sword. But you see the problem: doing so would make Saudi Arabia look like the sort of country that would, well, chop off someone's head with a long, curved sword. How is the Riyadh Tourist and Convention Bureau supposed to do market that!? (The SLCSA - Saudi Long Curved Sword Assocation - has objected strenuously to the delay in this execution. "Long curved swords are how we've always killed people," an SLCSA spokeman said, "Chopping off heads with long curved swords is as Saudi as stoning women for adultery.")
So I say to Utah: shoot Ronnie Lee and do so proudly. Don't worry that this public execution might become a public spectacle. It won't harm your state's image one whit. In fact, why not use it as the basis of a PR campaign: "Utah - XXX days since a botched execution. We're much better than Ohio!" or "Utah: We'll shoot you if you if you ask real nice!"