Saudis May End Beheadings; Said to Be Short on Swordsmen

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But if you thought (and you probably didn't) that Saudi Arabia had finally taken a giant leap forward into the eighteenth century by deciding that chopping off heads is inhumane, think again.

A joint Saudi committee composed of representatives of the ministries of interior, justice and health is mulling the replacement of beheading with firing squads for capital sentences due to shortages in government swordsmen, Saudi daily Al-Youm reported on Sunday [March 9].

I assume they mean trained swordsmen, because I'd think you could just hand a sword to whoever and let him start flailing away. I guess it's a point in their favor that they aren't doing that, but are instead considering new procedures to compensate for the lack of qualified personnel. Hm, maybe that does signal at least some greater openness to human rights and—

Speaking over a smuggled cellphone from his prison cell, one of seven Saudis set to be put to death Tuesday by crucifixion and firing squad for armed robbery appealed for help to stop the executions.

Never mind.

Flag_of_Saudi_ArabiaYou'd think it'd be even harder to find trained crucifixioners in this millennium, but Saudi Arabia does seem to have at least one. According to a CBS News report, "several people" were crucified in Saudi Arabia last year, in addition to about 70 who were beheaded. (U.S. states executed 43 people last year, but we use syringes instead of swords because we're modern.) There is some confusion over the Saudi numbers, maybe because according to human-rights groups there have been some cases "in which people were beheaded and then crucified," so they may have been double-counted. Well, I guess if you're going to kill somebody both ways, better to behead him first rather than the other way around. That would just be cruel.

Good news, though. After the defendants' families and Human Rights Watch appealed to King Abdullah for clemency—pointing out that, for example, they had not killed anyone, may have been tortured, and that one of the defendants was only 15 when he was arrested—the King agreed to commute their sentences.

So instead of being shot and then crucified, they were just beheaded. (According to the report, the government did manage to round up three swordsmen for this job.)