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Serbian prisoners 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 military circumstances or 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. Some official protocols[1] called for inclusion of one or more blank cartridges randomly distributed among the live ammunition, giving each squad member a chance of not having killed. 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 without their eyes covered. 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. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu's execution on 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 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.[citation needed] The last criminal execution in Brazil was carried out in 1861 in Paraíba state, by hanging.[citation needed]

Since 1891, the firing squad has been 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 that of 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.[citation needed]

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).[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The novel Execution is a fictional treatment of this incident, and inspired the television movie Firing Squad.[citation needed] In general, Canadian firing squads and the imposition of capital punishment was patterned after the British military justice system.[citation needed]

Firing squads in Finland

Soviet infiltrator being shot during the Continuation War.

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[3]

The death penalty was abolished by Finnish law in 1949 for crimes committed during peacetime, and in 1972 for all crimes.[4] 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.[5]

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. Nigerian drug smugglers Samuel Iwachekwu Okoye and Hansen Anthoni Nwaolisa were executed in June 2008 in Nusakambangan Island.[6] Five months afterwards, three men convicted for the 2002 Bali bombing, Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Ali Ghufron were executed on the same spot in Nusakambangan on November 2008.[7]

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.[citation needed] 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.[8] 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.[9]Manet immortalized the execution in a now-famous painting, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian; he painted at least three versions.

Firing squad execution was the most common way to execute a death sentence in Mexico, especially during the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War.[10] 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.[11]

Firing squads in The Netherlands

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

Firing squads in Norway

Vidkun Quisling and 36 others convicted of treason and/or war crimes in Norway 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.[citation needed] Quisling was executed at the Akershus Fortress on October 24, 1945.[citation needed] The death penalty was abolished in Norway for all crimes in 1979.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] Jose Rizal, who is now the National Hero of the Philippines[citation needed], 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[12]. 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.[citation needed] 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.[13]

Firing squads in the United Arab Emirates

In the United Arab Emirates, firing squad is the preferred method of execution.[14]

Firing squads in the United Kingdom

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] He was shot on March 14, 1757 at Portsmouth, for "failing to do his utmost" in an encounter with the French fleet during the Seven Years' War.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Morant's (now famous) final words were "Shoot straight, you bastards! Don't make a mess of it!"[15]. 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.[citation needed] The reason proposed for withholding this punishment was that since the AIF was an all-volunteer force, it did not warrant its application.[citation needed]

The Tower of London was used during both World Wars for executions: during World War I, 11 captured German spies were shot.[citation needed] On August 15, 1941, German Corporal Josef Jakobs was shot for espionage during World War II.[citation needed]

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.[16][17] The Shot at Dawn Memorial was erected to honor these soldiers.[citation needed]

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[citation needed], and there have been no judicial executions by any method since 1964.[citation needed]

Firing squads in Ireland

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.[citation needed] The executions have often been cited as a reason for how the rebels managed to galvanise public support in Ireland after their failed rebellion.[18]

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.[citation needed] The IRA also used formal firing squads, for example during the Killings at Coolacrease.[citation needed]

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).[citation needed]

Firing squads in the United States

According to Espy and Smylka[19] 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 espionage.[citation needed]

Firing squad history and laws in the U.S.
Color key:      Secondary method only      Formerly used firing squad, but does not today      Has never used firing squad

Capital punishment was suspended in the United States between 1972 and 1976, as a result of several decisions of the United States Supreme Court (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238). The process resumed with the execution of Gary Gilmore on January 17, 1977, at Utah State Prison in Draper. 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.[citation needed]

The only other post-Furman execution by firing squad, that of John Albert Taylor in 1996, also took place in Utah. Taylor reportedly chose this method of execution, in the word of the New York Times, "to make a statement that Utah was sanctioning murder."[20]

In Utah, the firing squad consisted of five volunteer police officers from the county in which the conviction of the offender took place.[citation needed] A law passed on March 15, 2004, banned execution by firing squad in Utah, but since that specific law was not retroactive,[21] 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, Oklahoma 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).[21] However, on April 1, 2009,[22] a bill to eliminate firing squad as a method of execution in Idaho was enacted, and took effect July 1, 2009.[21][citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ [1] 1947 US Army Manual 27-4 "Procedure for Military Executions"
  2. ^ War Victims of Finland 1914-1922 at the Finnish National Archives
  3. ^ a b Yliopistolehti 1995
  4. ^ Kuolemantuomio kuolemantuomiolle at Statistics Finland (in Finnish)
  5. ^ Finnish public treaty number SopS 49/1991
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Known history of the Mexican Revolution
  9. ^ Ibid
  10. ^ Ibid
  11. ^ Mexican Constitution, Article 22
  12. ^ BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Philippines 'restores' death penalty
  13. ^ Sun Star Cebu. 25 June, 2006. Arroyo kills death law
  14. ^ United Arab Emirates (UAE): Death penalty, Amnesty International (Urgent Action), April 3, 2002.
  15. ^ Shapiro, Fred R., ed (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 536. ISBN 978-0300107982.!%20Don't%20make%20a%20mess%20of%20it!&client=firefox-a&pg=PA536#v=onepage&q=Shoot%20straight,%20you%20bastards!%20Don't%20make%20a%20mess%20of%20it!&f=false. Retrieved 16 November 2009. 
  16. ^ The Shot at Dawn Campaign The New Zealand government pardoned their troops in 2000; the British government in 1998 expressed sympathy for the executed, and in 2006, the Secretary of State for Defence announced a full pardon for all 306 executed soldiers from the First World War.
  17. ^ The Daily Telegraph, Ben Fenton, August 16, 2006, accessed October 14, 2006
  18. ^ English, R. Irish Freedom, (London, 2006), p. 264-276.
  19. ^ M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smylka's database, "Executions in the U.S. 1608-2002: The Espy File." (Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research[2]
  20. ^ "Firing Squad Executes Killer". The New York Times. 1996-01-27. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  21. ^ a b c "Methods of Execution". Death Penalty Information Center. 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  22. ^ "Recent Legislative Activity". Death Penalty Information Center. 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 

Further reading

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

External links

Simple English

A firing squad is a group of people with guns who shoot and kill a criminal who has been sentenced to death penalty. The person being shot is often blindfolded. Firing squads have often used in the military for crimes such as desertion and cowardice.

Countries using the firing squad

Few countries use firing squads anymore. Many countries have either stopped using the death penalty or switched to using lethal injection. For example, in the United States, the state of Utah used to use firing squads, but it now uses lethal injection. However, some countries, such as Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, still use firing squads.

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