If Troy Davis’s execution takes place, as scheduled, at 7 pm tonight, it will bring a devastating end to years of torture on death row. The cruel and unusual punishment of a possibly innocent man includes not only his death at the hands of the state, but the 20 years he spent in solitary confinement on death row, with no fewer than four scheduled execution dates.
According to Time on Death Row, a report produced by the Death Penalty Information Center, “Psychologists and lawyers in the United States and elsewhere have argued that protracted periods in the confines of death row can make inmates suicidal, delusional and insane. Some have referred to the living conditions on death row – the bleak isolation and years of uncertainty as to time of execution – as the ‘death row phenomenon,’ and the psychological effects that can result as ‘death row syndrome.’”
Troy Davis’s experience, with its multiple imminent executions, has been particularly torturous. Ed Pilkington writes in The Guardian:
On 23 September 2008, Davis came within 90 minutes of execution. He was taken off the gurney after the US supreme court intervened.
That was his second execution date. On 16 July 2007 he was granted a stay just one day before he was due to die, and on 24 October 2008, at the third attempt to kill him, he was spared temporarily three days before his execution date.
Experts in death row and its psychological impact on prisoners say that such multiple exposure to imminent judicial death is tantamount to a form of torture. It can induce post-traumatic stress disorder, and human rights campaigners say it should be classified as cruel and unnatural treatment that should be banned, irrespective of the guilt or innocence of the prisoner.
Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist with extensive experience of treating death row inmates, has had patients who came within hours of death but were later proven to have been innocent. “I have watched what happens to them, and the effects are horrendous. People suffer immeasurably.”
One of his patients came close to being executed on the electric chair. “The image of burning up in the chair stayed with him for years afterwards.”
Brian Evans, a death row specialist with the US branch of Amnesty, pointed out that under international law, mock executions were considered to be a form of torture. “Troy Davis’s treatment was not a mock execution, but it has had the same effect. Especially when he has come within hours of death, and said his final goodbyes – that is certainly similar to torture.”