The Weekly Abolitionist: Robert Henry And State Sanctioned Torture

At C4SS, we recently received an action alert regarding an ongoing death penalty case in Florida. Here’s the action alert:

Robert Henry needs your help. Less than 25 days remain until Florida executes Robert using makeshift science and a cruel, untested lethal cocktail. Governor Scott has signed a death warrant and scheduled Robert’s execution for March 20th, 2014. Robert was sentenced to death in Broward County for the 1988 deaths of Janet Cox Thermidor and Phyllis Harris. Now, Robert’s family and friends, along with religious advocates, abolitionists, and activists across Florida and the U.S. are calling on Gov. Scott to STAY the execution.

Florida has recently implemented a dangerous, untested and non-FDA approved method of sedating death row inmates: Midzolam. Renowned anesthesiologists in the field have denounced the use of this new, experimental method as inhumane because it can cause the inmate to feel as if he is being buried alive.

Ohio, the only other state to use this experimental, non-anesthetic drug for its lethal injection, witnessed the horrific failure of this method in an execution just last month. The inmate, Denis Mcguire, choked to death for at least 10 minutes in an experiment that went horribly wrong.

Journalist Justin Peters has noted rolling the dice with this novel execution method is at odds with our democratic values:

Respect for the prisoner and for the process is what separates a state-sanctioned execution from a lynch mob. Justice requires patience. Vengeance values speed. By rushing to use an untested execution drug despite valid concerns about its safety and efficacy, Florida is willfully flouting this process.

Please help us save Robert from state-sanctioned torture. Take a moment to pass the message along to your friends, families, and other like-minded advocates.

Tell Gov. Scott to STOP Robert’s execution! Call 850-488-7146 or email:

Sign the petition:
Twitter: @SaveRobertHenry

All too often, torture is part of how the American state administers its death penalty. Incidents like the horrific death of Dennis McGuire in Ohio illustrate the cruelty of such methods of execution.

Moreover, cruelty and torture don’t simply occur in how the execution itself is administered. Death row itself often features cruel and torturous conditions. The Center for Constitutional Rights has lots of enlightening material on how the state tortures its victims before it kills them. The report highlights, among other abuses, pervasive use of solitary confinement. As I have repeatedly pointed out, solitary confinement is recognized as torture by voices across the political spectrum.

Beyond the torture angle, the death penalty itself is an extreme and downright creepy form of state coercion. Rather than simply killing in self defense, state agents kill someone who is subdued and confined. They meticulously plan and premeditate this killing when they have their victim in custody, and thus have already engaged in sufficient force to protect anyone the offender might harm. Thus, this extra violence cannot be defended with the same types of argument Roderick Long uses to defend some forms of incarceration.

I truly realized the morbid nature of the state and its execution tactics in 2010, when I participated in a vigil on the night that the State of Utah executed Ronnie Lee Gardner. The state of Utah used a firing squad rather than a new torture technique to kill Ronnie Lee Gardner, but it was still profoundly creepy and disturbing to watch a government leader walk out to triumphantly, coldly, and clinically tell reporters and family members that the state just killed a man. I sat with people who would never see a member of their family again, because state agents deliberately killed him for purposes of punishment.

The arguments made for the death penalty are all insufficient to justify the torture and premeditated killing it entails. The evidence for deterrence is very weak, with most criminologists saying the death penalty does not provide extra deterrence. And even if the kind of torture and premeditated killing the death penalty involves could somehow be ethically justified for dealing with murderers (and I don’t think it can be), there is substantial evidence that innocent people have been executed by the state.

Let’s end state sanctioned torture and premeditated murder. Let’s save Robert Henry, and all others the state plans to abuse in such brutal ways.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory