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Serbian prisoner of war are arranged in a semi circle and executed by an Austrian firing squad, 1917 (World War I)
Execution by firing squad is a method of capital punishment, particularly common in times of war. The firing squad is generally composed of several soldiers or peace officers. The method of execution requires all members of the group to fire simultaneously, thus preventing both disruption of the process by a single member and identification of the member who fired the lethal shot. The condemned is typically blindfolded or hooded, as well as restrained - though in some cases, condemned prisoners have asked to be allowed to face the firing squad with their eyes open. Executions can be carried out with the condemned either standing or sitting.

Execution by firing squad is distinct from other forms of execution by firearms, such as a single shot from a handgun to the back of the head or neck. However, the single shot (coup de grâce) is sometimes incorporated in a firing squad execution, particularly if the initial volley turns out not to be immediately fatal.

The method is also the supreme punishment or disciplinary means employed by courts martial for crimes such as cowardice, desertion or mutiny. One such execution was that of Private Eddie Slovik by the U.S. Army in 1945. Slovik was the only U.S. soldier executed for desertion since the American Civil War. It has also been applied for violent crimes carried out by soldiers, such as murder or rape. Also notably, Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry was executed by firing squad for his participation in the assassination attempt on French President Charles de Gaulle.

Firing squads have also been used for political crimes. Romanianmarker Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu (December 25, 1989) is an example of this.

There is a tradition in some jurisdictions that such executions are carried out at first light, or (more dramatically) at sunrise, which is usually up to half an hour later. This gave rise to the phrase 'shot at dawn', which has become particularly associated with the campaign (see below) to achieve a pardon for British servicemen shot for apparent cowardice in World War I.

By country

Firing squads in Brazil

In 1825, the priest Frei Joaquim do Amor Divino Rabelo "Caneca", was tried for insurgency against the Imperial Government and sentenced to death by hanging. However, the hangmen refused to execute a priest. Frei Caneca was tied to the gallows pole and executed by a firing squad. The last criminal execution in Brazil was carried out in 1861 in Paraíba state, by hanging.

Since 1891, the firing squad is the only legal method of death penalty in Brazil. During dictatorial periods (1937-1945, and 1969-1983), the death penalty was prescribed for "crimes against national security". The only death sentenced under the National Security Law was Theodomiro Romeiro Santos, who was convicted in 1970 for killing an Air Force sergeant in Salvador, Bahia state, but President Médici commuted the sentence to life imprisonment as a result of an appeal by the Catholic Church. Today, the death penalty in Brazil is legal only for military crimes at times of war, but has never been used.

Firing squads in Canada

Canada, under British courts martial, executed 25 soldiers for military crimes, chiefly cowardice and desertion, in the First World War, and maintained the death sentence in the Canadian Criminal Code until 1976, and militarily until 1998 (although the last execution held in Canada was in 1962). One soldier was executed during the Second World War, Private Harold Joseph Pringle of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, who was executed in Italy in 1945 for murder. The novel Execution is a fictional treatment of this incident, and inspired the television movie Firing Squad. In general, Canadian firing squads and the imposition of capital punishment was patterned after the British military justice system.

Firing squads in Finland

The death penalty was widely used during and after the Finnish Civil War; some 9,700 Finns were executed during the war or its aftermath. Most executions were carried out by firing squads after the sentences were given by illegal or semi-legal courts martial. Only some 250 persons were sentenced to death in courts acting on legal authority.

During World War II, some 500 persons were executed, half of them condemned spies. The usual causes for death penalty for Finnish citizens were treason and high treason (and to a lesser extent cowardice and disobedience, applicable for military personnel). Almost all cases of capital punishment were carried out by court martial. Usually, the executions were carried out by the regimental military police platoon, or in the case of spies, by the local military police. Most executions occurred in 1941, and during the Soviet Summer Offensive in 1944. The last death sentences were given in 1945 for murder, but later commuted to life imprisonment.

The death penalty was abolished by Finnish law in 1949 for crimes committed during peacetime, and in 1972 for all crimes. Finland is party to the Optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, forbidding the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.

Firing squads in Indonesia

Execution by firing squad is the common capital punishment method used in Indonesia. Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva, and Marinus Riwu were executed in 2006. Nigerianmarker drug smugglers Samuel Iwachekwu Okoye and Hansen Anthoni Nwaolisa were executed in June 2008 in Nusakambanganmarker Island. Five months afterwards, three men convicted for the 2002 Bali bombingmarker, Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Ali Ghufron were executed on the same spot in Nusakambangan on November 2008.

Firing squads in Israel

Meir Tobianski, an officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the early days of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, was falsely accused of espionage and sentenced to death on June 30, 1948, in what was later acknowledged to have been a serious miscarriage of justice. He was immediately afterwards executed by firing squad, in the depopulated Arab village of Beit Jiz. In the early 1950s, Israel abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes (Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was the only person since executed), and there are no other publicly known cases of Israeli usage of a firing squad.

Firing squads in Mexico

During the Mexican Independence War, several Independentist generals (such as Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos) were executed by Spanish firing squads. Also, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico and several of his generals were executed in the Cerro de las Campanas after the Juaristas took control of Mexico in 1867. Manet immortalized the execution in a now famous, although incomplete, painting, The Execution of Maximilian.

Firing squad execution was the most common way to execute a death sentence in Mexico, especially during the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War. After these events, the death sentence was reduced to some events in Article 22 of the Mexican Constitution; however, on June 18, 2008 capital punishment was abolished completely.

Firing squads in The Netherlands

Anton Mussert, a Dutchmarker Nazi leader, was sentenced to death by firing squad and executed in the dunes near The Haguemarker on May 7, 1946. Besides him, about 40 people were executed in The Netherlands after World War II.

Firing squads in Norway

Vidkun Quisling and 36 others convicted of treason and/or war crimes in Norwaymarker during the legal purge in Norway after World War II, were executed by firing squad at specially designated places, under the command of the local police chief. Quisling was executed at the Akershus Fortressmarker on October 24, 1945.

Firing squads in the Philippines

Historically, Spanish colonists in the Philippines used firing squads as a method of capital punishment to suppress the growing anti-colonial revolution; the other method being by garrote. Jose Rizal, who is now the National Hero of the Philippinesmarker, was executed by firing squad on the morning of December 30, 1896, in what is now the Luneta Park where his remains were since placed. The thirteen martyrs of Cavite were also executed this way.

During the Marcos administration, drug trafficking was punishable by firing squad, as was done to Lim Seng. The execution was aired live on television.

Execution by firing squad was later replaced by lethal injection. By June 24, 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo abolished capital punishment by Republic Act 9346. Existing death row inmates, which totalled in the thousands, were eventually given life sentences or reclusion perpetua instead.

Firing squads in the United Arab Emirates

In the United Arab Emiratesmarker, firing squad is the preferred method of execution.

Firing squads in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland

Execution by firing squad in the United Kingdom was limited to times of war, armed insurrection, and within the military, although is now outlawed in all circumstances, along with all other forms of capital punishment.

Within the military, Admiral John Byng was one of the most senior officers and the last of his rank to be executed in this fashion. He was shot on March 14, 1757 at Portsmouthmarker, for "failing to do his utmost" in an encounter with the French fleet during the Seven Years' War. Australian soldiers, Harry "Breaker" Morant and Peter Handcock were shot by a British firing squad on February 27, 1902, for alleged war crimes during the Boer War; many questions have since been raised as to whether they received a fair trial. Morant's (now famous) final words were "shoot straight, you bastards". The Australian Imperial Force which served throughout World War I had provision for (but never utilised) execution by firing squad. This was despite strong pressure brought upon the Australian Government to do so by the British High Command. The reason proposed for withholding this punishment was that since the AIF was an all-volunteer force, it did not warrant its application.

Following the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, 15 of the 16 rebel leaders were shot by the British military authorities under martial law. One leader, James Connolly, who could not stand because a bullet had already shattered his ankle during the fighting, was strapped to a chair and shot. The executions have often been cited as a reason for how the rebels managed to galvanise public support in Ireland after their failed rebellion. In the ensuing Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), the British authorities were wary of carrying out executions, for fear of further inflaming nationalist sentiment. Nevertheless, 14 Irish Republican Army (IRA) members were shot by firing squad during the conflict. The IRA also used formal firing squads, for example during the Killings at Coolacrease. However, the most draconian use of this punishment in the period came after the British had withdrawn from the Irish Free State. In the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, the new Irish government officially executed 77 Anti-Treaty IRA members by firing squad (see Executions during the Irish Civil War).

The Tower of Londonmarker was used during both World Wars for executions: during World War I, 11 captured German spies were shot, and on August 15, 1941, German Corporal Josef Jakobs was shot for espionage during World War II.

Private Thomas Highgate was the first British soldier to be convicted of desertion and then executed by firing squad during the First World War. Particularly since the 1960s, there has been some controversy concerning 346 British and Imperial troops — including 25 Canadians, 22 Irish and 5 New Zealanders — who were shot for desertion, murder, cowardice and other offences during the war, some of whom are now thought to have been suffering from combat stress reaction or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("shell-shock", as it was then known). This led to organisations such as the Shot at Dawn Campaign being set up in later years to try to uncover just why these soldiers were executed.

The Shot at Dawn Memorialmarker was erected to honor these soldiers.

Capital punishment in the UK, including the military, was formally outlawed by the Human Rights Act 1998 (s. 21(5)), although capital punishment for murder had been abolished before this, and there have been no judicial executions by any method since 1964.

Firing squads in the United States

According to Executions in the U.S. 1608-1987 by M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smylka, it is estimated that 142 men have been judicially shot in the United States and English-speaking predecessor territories since 1608, excluding executions related to the American Civil War. The Civil War saw several hundred firing squad deaths, but reliable numbers are not available. Crimes punishable by firing squad in the Civil War included desertion, intentionally killing a superior officer or fellow soldier, and being a spy.[[Image:Map of US firing squad usage.svg|left|thumb|250px|Firing squad history and laws in the U.S.
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Capital punishment was suspended in the United States between 1972 and 1976, as a result of several decisions of the United States Supreme Courtmarker (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238). The process resumed with the execution of Gary Gilmore on January 17, 1977, at Utah State Prisonmarker in Drapermarker. The five executioners were equipped with .30-30 caliber rifles and off-the-shelf Winchester 150 grain (9.7 g) SilverTip ammunition. The condemned was restrained and hooded, and the shots were fired at a distance of 20 feet (6 m), aiming at the chest. In his biography Shot in the Heart, Mikal Gilmore wrote that when he examined the shirt worn by his brother Gary during the execution, he found five bullet holes, indicating that all members of the squad had been armed with live cartridges, and none with a blank round.

The only other post-Furman execution by firing squad, that of John Albert Taylor in 1996, also took place in Utahmarker. Taylor is said to have chosen the firing squad because it would be awkward for state officials.

In Utah, the firing squad consisted of five volunteer police officers from the county in which the conviction of the offender took place. A law passed on March 15, 2004 banned execution by firing squad in Utah, but since that specific law was not retroactive, four inmates (one, Roberto Arguelles died of natural causes on death row, leaving only three) on Utah's death row could still have their last requests granted. As of 2009, Oklahomamarker is the only other state in which execution by firing squad is legally available (as a backup method only; the state uses lethal injection as its primary method of execution). However, on April 1, 2009, a bill to eliminate firing squad as a method of execution in Idaho was enacted, and took effect July 1, 2009. As of 2009, only Oklahoma and Utah have the option of the firing squad as a method of execution. After Utah executes, exonerates or commutes the three remaining inmates who can still possibly choose the method, it is likely the firing squad will never be used in the U.S. again, remaining on the books as a backup only.

See also


Further reading

  • Moore, William, The Thin Yellow Line, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1974
  • Putkowski and Sykes, Shot at Dawn, Leo Cooper, 2006

External links

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