Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Peach Tree Cartel

I said last week that the choice of drug was a distraction.  My point then was that all the stuff other than the snuffing out of life, the fact of cold-blooded, calculated murder, in our names, by our government is ultimately tangential.  
Because really, the death penalty is all about killing people.
And yet.
How we go about it matters.  If the decision to kill says something about us, so do the various decisions about what we're willing to do to kill.
So let's talk about the drugs just a bit.
We know that Hospira was seriously disapproving (or, perhaps what we know is that they claimed to be seriously disapproving) of using their thiopental to kill people.  And we know that Hospira first stopped making thiopental because they ran out of an ingredient and then didn't start again because they couldn't be certain that states wouldn't get hold of the drug and use it to kill.  (It wasn't quite so "First do no harm" a decision as that makes it sound, but still, that was the underlying reason.)
We know that some states, in desperation, started buying thiopental on the black market international market, from firms like Dream Pharma, located in the Elgone Driving Academy in London.
And we know that there's evidence suggesting that black market international market thiopental isn't up to standard.  It just seems not to work very well.  There's evidence from witnesses to recent three-drug executions using that thiopental indicating that the person being killed wasn't unconscious - which is what the thiopental is supposed to do.
Anyway, there isn't much of it out there.  Texas has killings scheduled but no drug.  Thirteen states asked Attorney General Eric Holder for help finding thiopental.  But Holder says that the feds can't help.  They're out of thiopental, too.
"At the present time, the federal government does not have any reserves of sodium thiopental for lethal injections and is therefore facing the same dilemma as many states," Holder said in a March 4 letter sent to the National Association of Attorneys General and obtained by The Associated Press.
Holder said the lack of an available supply of sodium thiopental "is a serious concern."
Ah, yes.  In response to that "serious concern," Oklahoma replaced thiopental with pentobarbital in it's three-drug poisonings.  Ohio, which uses only one drug, switched from thiopental to pentobarbital.
But as the Washington Post reported, the manufacturer of pentobarbital isn't happy.
The Danish company that distributes pentobarbital in the United States said it had no control over how its products are used but criticized Ohio's decision.
"It's against everything we stand for," said Mads Kronborg, a spokesman for H. Lundbeck of Copenhagen. Kronborg said the company had protested to state officials considering using the drug for executions. "We invent and develop medicine with the aim of alleviating people's burden. This is the direct opposite of that." 
Which all gets back to the point that how we go about killing says something about us.  That same story in the Post quoted Deborah Denno, a professor at NYU Law School who's maybe the nation's foremost expert on the law of execution technology, on Ohio's then-pending pentobarbital killing.
"Ohio is gambling blindly in its rush to execute," said Deborah W. Denno, a professor of law at Fordham University Law School in New York. "There is no reason why Ohio cannot take the time to devise a constitutionally acceptable execution procedure in the way so many experts have recommended." 
But Ohio wouldn't.  Nor would those states that, it turns out, may just have smuggled illegally imported supplies of thiopental.  You know, states like Georgia.
States that the DEA goes after for smuggling murderous drugs into the country.
"Drugs were seized today by the DEA from our facility in Jackson," Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristen Stancil told the AJC.
The seizure comes more than two weeks after an attorney representing a death row inmate from Cobb County wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder saying the Georgia Department of Corrections circumvented federal law in trying to quickly secure a scarce drug used in lethal injections.
"DEA did take control of the controlled substances today," DEA spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell told the AJC. "There were questions about the way the drugs were imported over here."
We tend to overuse words like unprecedented to mean, say, hasn't happened since last week.
I think this is probably really unprecedented. 
The DEA treats the sovereign State of Georgia like a drug cartel.
So let's just take a moment to wallow.

The state wanted to kill ASAP.  That meant they needed drugs.  So they went and smuggled in a supply because it might take extra time to get a legal supply, or to find another way to kill people.  And time?
Can't delay.  Can't wait to do it right.  Can't allow that.

H/t Mark Bennett, Lori L,


  1. The lesson you draw from recent developments is that the State of Georgia (and others) just want to kill people.

    The lesson some other observers draw from the last year is that those who were bringing method-of-execution claims were simply using them as a stalking horse to get rid of the death penalty altogether.

  2. Those aren't mutually exclusive possibilites.

    Of course, Georgia wouldn't support my reading and many of those objecting to the prospect of inflicting horrific pain on folks being murdered would object to yours.