(Part 37 of an ongoing series)
I have often been asked, generally by some type of adverse party, whether I sleep at night or how well I sleep at night. And my answer is always the same. I sleep very well at night and I sleep with the comforting thought of knowing that those persons that are being executed with my equipment, that those people have a better chance of having a painless, more humane and dignified execution.
Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
I don’t think any state should administer capital punishment, not so much because it might be cruel and unusual, or because it doesn’t seem to deter a whole lot of murder. The main reason I find capital punishment so asinine is because it’s the most irreversible kind of punishment there is. That’s bad enough when the person executed is actually guilty of murder, and it’s infinitely bad when the person executed turns out to be not guilty of murder, which has happened more than a few times. So to all you bloodthirsty, Old-Testament-God types in favor of capital punishment, how about we compromise? Let’s say we abolish capital punishment for now, and then when science is finally able to bring humans back from the dead, then fine, we can start executing again. I think that’s plenty fair.
For the first half hour or so that I was watching Errol Morris’ documentary Mr. Death, I kinda liked its subject, Fred Leuchter. He may be an unabashed proponent of capital punishment, I thought, but as long as the death penalty exists in this country, I felt glad Fred was there not only to build machines that death-penalize prisoners as painlessly as possible, but to take into account, say, how the expelled urine of an inhumanely executed prisoner might create hazardous conditions for guards and other prisoners.
But then Mr. Death takes a hard left turn (at least for viewers like me who weren’t already familiar with Leuchter’s story), and soon he’s using dubious scientific methods to deny the Holocaust.
At which point Leuchter’s image morphs from “morbid old geek whom you wouldn’t mind chatting with at a bus stop” to “deluded, egotistical, neo-Nazi-hero whom you wouldn’t want to be photographed in the same room as.” And yet it’s hard not to feel pity for Fred. I may disagree with his silly theories that Auschwitz gas chambers never existed, but I agree with his assertions that he isn’t anti-Semitic. He just seems a little bit lonely, and a little too desperate for recognition. Or, kind of like how Hannah Arendt described Adolf Eichmann in Eichmann in Jerusalem: “…[E]verybody could see that this man was not a ‘monster,’ but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown.”