As vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, former Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss played a significant role in the immediate aftermath of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. Now BuzzFeed reports that the retired Republican senator has declared his personal views on the controversy: He believes Snowden should be hanged “on the courthouse square as soon as we get our hands on him.”
Chambliss’s remarks were, weirdly, delivered during a speech at the University of Georgia reflecting on his Senate career. Asked about the OPM breach, Chambliss interjected that he hoped “none of you have sympathy for” Snowden. Chambliss then compared the OPM breach to the Snowden leak, explaining that both will cause the loss of “American lives.”
The former senator’s avowed support for a public execution may be a bit shocking. But in a perverse way, I find his honesty refreshing. Many staunch death penalty supporters (like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) dress up their support for capital punishment in the pretext of enlightened criminal justice. Chambliss essentially admits that his desire to see Snowden executed is largely based in bloodlust. Public executions are horribly violent, but they force Americans to contend with the punishment they still see fit to impose. During a lethal injection, the executioner can always draw the blinds. There is no concealing the savagery of a public hanging. As 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote last year:
Executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.
Chambliss’s enthusiastic vision of a public hanging suggests he is willing—eager, even—to embrace the “horrendous brutality” of capital punishment. He may espouse a disturbingly savage vision of retribution. But at least he’s candid about what he supports.