Mock execution

A mock execution is a stratagem in which a victim is deliberately but falsely made to feel that their execution or that of another person is imminent or is taking place. The subject is made to believe that they are being led to their 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.

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 specialists 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 and their 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.

Historical instances

Petrashevsky Circle's members, including writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, going through an 'execution ritual', an example of a mock execution. St. Petersburg, Semionov-Plaz, 1849.
B. Pokrovsky's drawing
  • In 1849, members of Russian political discussion group the Petrashevsky Circle, including writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, were convicted for high treason and sentenced to execution by firing squad. The sentences were commuted to hard labour secretly and the prisoners were told only after all the preparations for execution had been carried out.[1] Dostoevsky described the experience in his novel The Idiot.[2]
  • 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"[3] ("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,[4] 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 2000, British military hostages in Sierra Leone were subject to mock executions by the West Side Boys to get information from them.
  • In April 2003, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Allen West had an Iraqi police officer 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 sand-filled barrel used for clearing weapons, placed his gun into the barrel and discharged the weapon near Hamoodi's head. Hamoodi then provided West with names, location and methods of the alleged ambush, which never happened, and no evidence of any plans of attack was found. Hamoodi was released without charges; West was charged with violations of two statutes of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but charges were dropped after West was fined $5,000 for the incident and allowed to resign his position with the U.S. Army without court martial.[5]
  • 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.[6]

See also


  1. Frank, Joseph (2010). Dostoevsky A Writer in His Time. Princeton University Press. p. 178.
  2. Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2004). The Idiot. Penguin Classics. p. 71.
  3. End of North Korea? The Palm Beach Times
  4. American Civil Liberties Union: U.S. Marines Engaged in Mock Executions of Iraqi Juveniles and Other Forms of Abuse, Documents Obtained by ACLU Reveal
  5. Deborah Sontag, "How Colonel Risked His Career by Menacing Detainee and Lost", New York Times (May 27 2004)
  6. Chelsea J. Carter; Barbara Starr; Ashley Fantz. "Foley's final months: Mock executions, failed rescue". CNN. Retrieved 2019-11-17.