Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Unconvincing Execution of Elias Syriani

I reported on November 19, 2005, on the sad, sad execution in North Carolina of Elias Syriani. Syriani had killed his wife in a rage and had been convicted and sentenced to death. The couple's four children, after years of understandable estrangement from their father, in due course reconciled with him and came to know and love him. As his execution date approached the children did everything possible to persuade the Governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, to commute the sentence. They hired legal counsel, they met with Easley, and they took their appeal public with a dramatic appearance on the Larry King show. All to no avail -- Easley turned them down with a brief, cold, heartless statement that he could find "no convincing reason" to commute the death sentence. The decision was bad enough, but Easley's reliance on such a vacuous non-reason made it all the more gratuitously painful to the Syriani children. He might at least have had the decency to explain why the love of the man's four children and their desperate need to have their father stay alive for their sake was not a convincing reason.

Linda Booker, a North Carolina based filmmaker, has now produced, directed and released a moving documentary on the case entitled Love Lived on Death Row. The production was supported in part by the Southern Documentary Fund, a non-profit organization supporting documentary film projects about the American south. It documents a tense and tearful set of interviews, before and after the execution, with the Syriani children, their extraordinary lawyers, Henderson Hill and Russell Sizemore, Meg Eggleston, a woman who befriended Syriani and took up his cause, and Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun, the author of Dead Man Walking, a nationally prominent advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Unfortunately but predictably Mike Easley declined to be interviewed and to give the family and indeed the country the benefit of his view on why in this unique and compelling case this terrible execution had to go forward for no convincing reason. The trailer for the film appears above and can also be viewed on the film's website.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Black Comedy at the Vatican

Bishop Richard Nelson Williamson

In one of the nuttiest acts to emanate from the Vatican in recent years the German pope has rehabilitated, rescued from excommunication and restored to Catholic hierarchical legitimacy a Holocaust denier. What next? Will the pope host Saturday Night Live?

The pope is of course his "holiness" Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, born in Bavaria 81 years ago, the former Archbishop of Munich. At the depth of the Holocaust he was sixteen years old...old enough, one would think. The Bishop is Richard Nelson Williamson, born in England and now 68 years old. He was of course a child during the Holocaust. He evidently remains a child, but an exceptionally malicious one.

The Bishop was excommunicated on July 1, 1988, by the head of the Congregation of Bishops in the Vatican. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the excommunication the following day. In the following years the bishop went around like a loose cannon on the Catholic deck doing crazy things like ordaining a group of excommunicated Polish priests. But he owes his infamy not to that -- who really cares if a pack of unaccredited priests are running loose in the Polish countryside? -- but to his frequent and loud denial of the Holocaust.

In an extraordinary, too-good-to-be-true bit of timing Williamson reaffirmed his Holocaust denial in the most emphatic possible terms in an interview by Ali Fagan for Swedish public television conducted in Germany at Zaitzkofen Castle near Regensburg in November of 2008. A scant two months later, on January 21, 2009, the German pope "remitted" (the technical term) Williamson's excommunication. The Swedish television station saw its opening and released the Williamson interview the same day. A storm of outrage gathered and broke over the Vatican. Having none, the Vatican and the pope have been unable to offer a sensible explanation for this bit of unprovoked madness. The Vatican Secretariat of State now claims that Williamson's Holocaust denials were "unknown to the Holy Father at the time he revoked the excommunication." In other words, the pope is in the same position as an investor in the Bernie Madoff fund -- he simply did not do his own due diligence but relied instead on the assurances of others that the guy was OK. It is thus not a question of malice but of papal competency.

For the reader who has not read and marveled at the actual Swedish TV interview of Williamson I have posted it below. It is well worth viewing. Regard his dress: the neat white collar, the tasteful red piping and red buttons on his black tunic, the stunning scarlet cumberbund, the beautiful silver necklace with its jeweled cross nicely looped from the third button so as to be easily visible on TV. Regard his movie star good looks and carefully coiffed silver hair. Every bit of a man of distinction and high achievement. Or not? Note as you view it the so-earnest scientific logic of his argument: Jews could not have been gassed at Auschwitz because the doors on the gas chambers there do not fit tightly and the cyanide would therefore have leaked out and killed the Nazi's working in the chamber. Q.E.D.

Note next the below-the-belt shot that the Jews have simply exploited the Holocaust and used it to shame the Germans into paying them billions of euros. Finally, and best (or worst) of all, note the sly snide smile on his face as he brings to the Swedish interviewer's attention the fact that his statements are criminal under German law, where the interview is being conducted, and he therefore hopes the interviewer will not turn him in. How cute he is. How he loves his role as the anti-semitic provacateur! One can only hope the prosecutor in Regensburg is preparing charges and will patiently wait until Williamson can be found in a country with an extradition treaty with Germany.