A mock execution is a stratagem in which a victim is deliberately but falsely made to feel that his execution or that of another person is imminent or is taking place. It may be staged for an audience or a subject who is made to believe that he is being led to his own execution. This might involve blindfolding the subjects, making them recount last wishes, making them dig their own grave, holding an unloaded gun to their head and pulling the trigger, shooting near (but not at) the victim, or firing blanks. Mock execution is categorized as psychological torture. There is a sense of fear induced when a person is made to feel that they are about to be executed or witness someone being executed. Mock execution is considered psychological torture because there is no physical harm caused, but there is mental harm. Psychological harm is caused because the victim’s suspense level increases while awaiting their death or someone else, which is considered torture. The psychological trauma begins to occur when the victim realizes that they are about be executed. The psychological trauma results in permanent damage equivalent to the aftermath of physical torture. The buildup of anxiety due to mock execution could influence the end result of the staged death.
The psychological trauma can also lead to depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental disorders after experiencing a traumatic event such as a mock execution. An example of anxiety during a mock execution would be the victim showing signs of fear, crying, uncontrollable movements, and pleading for their life.The psychological trauma may lead to a breakdown where someone may do or say something to stop the execution; it might act as a threat that future conduct may result in a real execution; or suggest that the apparent victim's death has changed the circumstances. Using mock execution may not result in death, but leaves the victim with the memory of the torture they experienced. Treatment after experiencing torture should take effect as soon as possible. Interventions and Specialist have been proven to be beneficial. In Lilla Hardi, Gábor Király, Esther Kovács, and Kathryn Heffernan’s 2010 publication Torture and Survivors: Manual for Experts in Refugee Care, treatments for trauma are discussed. According to the authors, trauma specialists are able to help victims overcome the experience, emotions, and explains that it will be a long healing process. Trauma specialists are able to assist the victim in identifying the issue and brainstorming ways to overcome the trauma. Interventions are beneficial as it allows the victim to be more comfortable with discussing the event, relating to individuals with similar experiences, and practicing coping skills.
- In 1849 members of Russian underground political club Petrashevsky Circle, including writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, were convicted for high treason and sentenced to execution by firing squad. Pardon was granted secretly and announced only after all the preparations for execution were carried out.
- In 1939 a Soviet general (later Field Marshal) Konstantin Rokossovsky was tortured including suffering several mock executions ordered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
- In 1968, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, Commander of the USS Pueblo, was tortured and put through a mock firing squad by North Korean interrogators in an effort to make him confess; see USS Pueblo. Eventually, the Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and Bucher relented. None of the Koreans knew English well enough to write the confession, so they had Bucher write it himself. They verified the meaning of his words, but failed to catch the pun when he said "We paean the North Korean state. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung" ("We paean" sounds almost identical to "we pee on"). Following an apology, a written admission by the U.S. that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the U.S. would not spy in the future, the North Korean government decided to release the 82 remaining crew members.
- The American hostages held by Iran of 1979 were subject to a mock execution by their detainers.
- Reports of mock executions carried out by the US Marines on detainees in Iraq surfaced in December 2004, as the American Civil Liberties Union published internal documents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents were written seven weeks after the publication of the photographs which triggered the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
- In April 2003, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Allen West (who later served a single term as a Congressman for Florida's 22nd congressional district) had an Iraqi police officer named Yehiya Kadoori Hamoodi seized and brought in for questioning based on allegations he was planning an imminent attack on West's unit. After Hamoodi was allegedly beaten by an interpreter and several U.S. troops, West took Hamoodi out of the interrogation room and showed him six U.S. troops with weapons in hand. West told Hamoodi, "If you don't talk, they will kill you." West then placed Hamoodi's head in a bucket used for clearing weapons, placed his gun into the bucket and discharged the weapon near Hamoodi's head. He then provided West with names, location and methods of the alleged ambush. However, the alleged ambush—supposedly scheduled for the following day—never occurred, and a search of Hamoodi's residence uncovered no evidence of any plans of attack. Hamoodi was subsequently released without charges. For his involvement in this incident, West was charged with violations of two statutes of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; however, charges were subsequently dropped after West was fined $5,000 for the incident and allowed to resign his position with the U.S. Army without court martial.
- In 2014 Journalist James Foley was subjected to mock executions by ISIL militants before he was beheaded. Mock executions are reported to be a common torture tactic used by ISIL.
Examples in media
Mock executions are common in fiction as easy suspense can be created by having the protagonist subjected to what turns out to be only a mock execution, such as in the Spike Lee film Inside Man, or V for Vendetta.
Film and television
- In the popular crime drama, Criminal Minds, season two episode "Revelations" includes a scene where Spencer Reid is tied to a chair and being tortured (as part of the two-part episode story line). This includes a serial killer Tobias Hankel loading a gun with a blank and firing it at Reid, who is convinced that he's about to die. Later on in the same episode, Reid is forced to dig his own grave, though he manages to steal Hankel's gun and shoot him before anything can happen.
- In the TV series, 24, Jack Bauer gets terrorist Syed Ali to reveal the location of a nuclear bomb in terrorist hands by carrying out a mock execution of Ali's son and then threatening to "execute" the rest of his family.
- In the manga/anime Death Note, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Light Yagami and Misa Amane undergo a mock execution carried out by Light's father. It was done in order to negate suspicions that the pair acted collectively as the serial killer known as Kira.
- In The Gods Must Be Crazy a man is blindfolded and led into a helicopter. Minutes later he is pushed out the open door, unaware he is only a few feet above the ground.
- An episode of the dark comedy series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia centers around the main characters being taken hostage and forced to compete in order to "survive". Near the end of the episode, they are taken to the roof of their bar and held at gunpoint. Their captors then drop their shotguns, revealed to be rubber replicas, and leave the roof, which is a single story high, via a fire escape.
- In the 1983 film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Major Jack Celliers, played by David Bowie, is subjected to a mock firing squad by his Japanese captors in an attempt to break him.
- In the Simpsons episode "The Frying Game", Homer is led to what he believes to be his death in the electric chair, but it turns out to be a reality television show.
- Two episodes of HBO's popular crime-drama series, The Sopranos, feature mock executions:
- In the episode "Denial, Anger, Acceptance", Meadow Soprano and her choir sing the English version of the lullaby Ar Hyd y Nos, intercut with the mock execution of Christopher Moltisanti, and the real execution of Brendan Filone.
- In the episode "Where's Johnny?", Phil Leotardo mock executes lady shylock, Lorraine Calluzzo, by having her tightly bound, gagged with duct tape, and shot at, using a telephone directory to stop the bullet. He warns, "Next time, there'll be no next time."
- In the film To End All Wars, upon being taken prisoner, British troops are blindfolded and lined up. The Japanese fire at them but they are using blanks, so no one is killed.
- In the 2000 film Traffic, Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez (Benicio del Toro) is put through a mock execution in order to gain the trust of General Arturo Salazar (Tomás Milián).
- In the 1987 film The Untouchables, during a raid on the Canadian border, one of Al Capone’s bookkeepers agrees to provide Eliot Ness with information after Jim Malone (Sean Connery) pretends to kill the bookkeeper’s friend by putting a gun in his mouth and blowing the back of his head off. The bookkeeper did not know that his friend was already dead. He witnessed the shooting through a window, and Malone made the point of saying, “I won't ask you again. What's the matter. Can't you talk with a gun in your mouth? One... two... three...” to explain why the man was not speaking.
- In The Shield, the Strike Team pretend to be about to execute a member of the Russian mafia by attaching explosives to his body, in an effort to encourage his accomplices to give them information; it is implied that their intention is not to actually carry it out, but merely to "look convincing".
- In The Chuck Norris film Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, Opelka, one of Braddock's men is taken to "The Tree" and has a pistol pointed at his head and dry-shot over and over again by their captors.
- In the film The Dark Knight Rises, three hooded prisoners are taken into custody by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), put on board an airplane and are questioned regarding the kidnapping of Dr. Leonid Pavel. The hooded prisoners are placed near the edge of the aircraft's open hatch with guns pointed to their heads and are asked questions about the identity of their boss, Bane. When the first prisoner does not answer, the interrogating CIA agent fires his gun out of the plane, leading the second prisoner to believe that the first has been shot and thrown from the plane. The CIA agent then questions the second prisoner, who also refuses to speak. When the CIA agent ironically questions the loyalty of the second prisoner (who is believed to be a mercenary like his fellow captives), the third prisoner (who is soon revealed to be Bane) points out the agent's idle threats of execution, saying, "Perhaps he's wondering why someone would shoot a man, before throwing him out of a plane."
Literature and publications
- In both the novel Fight Club and its film adaptation, mock executions, referred to as "human sacrifices", are carried out by members of Project Mayhem in order to evoke a sense of one's "here and now" existence.
- In the Raymond E. Feist novel Shadow of a Dark Queen, a group of men are led to a mock execution to form a regiment of men who are above the fear of death.
- In the Leo Tolstoy novel War and Peace, Pierre Bezukhov is led to believe that he has been sentenced to death when Napoleon's soldiers force him to watch the execution of Russian captives.
- In Puccini's Tosca, the eponymous heroine bargains with Scarpia that her lover will suffer only a mock execution (but the villain secretly orders his death).
- In Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger, the crew of a United States Coast Guard cutter stage a mock execution to coerce a confession out of the two murderers of a man and his family.
- Death row phenomenon: the psychological trauma that is experienced by death row inmates
- Bush lauded for handling of EP-3 incident WorldNetDaily
- End of North Korea? The Palm Beach Times
- American Civil Liberties Union : U.S. Marines Engaged in Mock Executions of Iraqi Juveniles and Other Forms of Abuse, Documents Obtained by ACLU Reveal
-  The New York Times
Hárdi, L., Király, G., Kovács, E., & Heffernan, K., (2010). Torture and survivors. (pg. 1-32).