Are Last-Minute Stays of Execution a Form of Torture?

December 10, 2008

The practice of “mock execution”, where prisoners are led to believe they are going to be killed by their captors, only to be spared at the last minute, is widely recognized as a form of torture.  So when a scheduled execution is stayed at the last minute, does that constitute torture?

Last week in Iran, an unnamed man was pardoned by the victim’s family just moments after his hanging began.  He was cut down and rushed to the hospital and ultimately saved.  Amnesty International has issued a statement pointing out that in other circumstances:

“Any person subjected to similar treatment — for example, in a “mock-execution” — would be seen to have been subjected to torture, which is expressly and totally prohibited under international human rights law.”

Such last minute stays are not unknown here in the U.S.  In Georgia, Troy Davis came within an hour and a half of execution in September, and last year Earl Wesley Berry came within 18 minutes of being killed by the state of Mississippi.  Were these men tortured?