Thursday, March 03, 2005

Marcus in Arabia: The Execution.

The UAE has the death penalty. It is not used as often as it is in other local nations and my sense of its use in the UAE was that it was fair. It was used only in cases of serious crimes and there was plenty of review and chance for the condemned to appeal their sentence.

All of their executions are private with one exception and I was at hand for that one exception. In Al-Ain Indian (typically) money changers were turning up dead in the desert sans their money. One of my friends was interviewed by the police in the case (I do not believe he was a suspect but he worked in a bank and was Indian so he may have known something). Eventually they caught the perpetrators and it turned out it was a gang. The two who carried out the grisly work were an Iranian and a first generation UAE citizen (IIRC his heritage may have been Iranian as well).

The two would approach a money changer on the way to the bank to deposit the day's funds and the local fellow would flash his police badge (I can not recall if he was a beat cop or a CID guy) and ask the fellow to come with them for some questions. The hapless money changer would then be driven to the desert relieved of the money and his life. Officially this happened only a couple times, rumors have it happening as much as 24 times throughout the UAE.

Since this crime involved abuse of police powers the powers that be were very keen to make an example of the pair and they decided on a public execution. The day before the two were taken outside for some public humiliation and this I did not see and from what I was told it was called off long before it was originally scheduled to finish. My guess is they were insulted and spit upon and eventually the security started to become a concern so the authorities put an end to it.

The day of the execution I arrived on the scene very early. It was not fully light and struck up a conversation with a police officer. We talked about (after repeatedly answering NO to his repeated inquiries if I had a camera) the DP in general and if we had it in America. I said some places yes some no and other than that I don't recall much about the conversation. Anyway I left since it was hours before the grim event. I eventually returned and this time it was different there was quite a crowd on hand, mostly locals and taxi drivers (from Pakistan). I ran into some of my students and I also saw some other Westerners.

When I arrived the condemned were tied up to the posts (they built up a large sand berm behind the posts). They wore blue jeans and immaculate white t-shirts with red circles over their hearts. The Iranian with the assistance of the guards was chain smoking and the local guy was a pile of mush; the only reason he was upright was because he was tied to the post.

In the meantime I was trying to get a good position to view the event but the taxi driver crowd is much more used to pushing and shoving their way to the front than I ever will be so the front was not going to happen. I also noted the jeeps with mounted 50 caliber machine guns and decided that the best position would be towards the back of the crowd where I could make a quick exit if things hit the fan. Up at the front the police had rubber whips (actually they were more stick like but were pretty whippy) to keep the crowd from encroaching on the perimeter they set up.

Eventually the Iranian's chain smoking came to an end. The condemned were hooded. A black suburban came rolling into the perimeter and parked near the firing line. The rear door opened and about five guys wearing hoods, in uniform, each with a sub-machine gun came out of the back. They had practiced it as it looked very polished. Each man must have pumped his feet at least five times before hitting the dirt and they formed a firing line, on their knees, heads down, muzzles up. Over the loudspeakers came a voice speaking in Arabic. My guess is a verse from the Qur'ran was read and the crowd harrumphed in agreement with what was read.

Since I was towards the back I only would catch glimpses at this point. I heard a command the men on the firing line had their guns aimed at the condemned then I lost sight and then came another command. The guns began to crack, the taxi drivers started to jump like popcorn popping to see what was going on and then it was done. The next sight I had was the gunmen were gone and the condemned were still at their posts with their heads down. There was no blood or obvious sign of trauma visible. A siren wailed and an ambulance came to collect the condemned.

I left feeling sorry for the whole affair that started with the condemned kidnapping, robbing and murdering some number of people. Given a knife and permission to cut the condemned free from the deathly bonds, I would have dashed the knife into the brown desert sand.