The Death Penalty In Oklahoma: A Study In Bureaucratic Horror
The evil of the death penalty should be obvious. After all, they just released an innocent man off death row in Texas. Anthony Graves was saved by a fluke – he got a magazine story written about his case. From a column on the release by Leonard Pitts Jr.:
One hopes people who love the death penalty are taking note. So often, their arguments in favor of that barbarous frontier relic seem to take place in some alternate universe where cops never fabricate evidence and judges never make mistakes, where lawyers are never inept and witnesses never commit perjury. So often, they behave as if in this one critical endeavor, unlike in every other endeavor they undertake, human beings somehow get it right every time.
But the public doesn’t seem to notice. A Gallup poll found that death penalty support remains steady at 64 percent and the U.S. just rejected calls at the UN to abolish the death penalty, defending its use under international law.
No, the real sticky horror of our institutionalized killing comes from the banal bureaucratic details – straight out of Hannah Arendt and her well-known take on efficient Nazi murderers/paper pushers.
Case in point – supply shortages. Oh, what a logistics headache for the American death industry. There is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, the drug used to put inmates to sleep before other drugs are injected into their system to actually kill them.
Oklahoma, which is scheduled to execute John David Duty on Dec. 16, has said that veterinarians regard pentobarbital, which it is proposing as a substitute anesthetic for death row inmates, “as an ideal anesthetic agent for humane euthanasia in animals,” that is “substantially” similar to thiopental, according to a court filing last month.
No testing, nothing. Hey, it works on horses!
It turns out Oklahoma is the birthplace of lethal injections as we know it, though they apparently have used a severely flawed method.
The other option to this unacceptable execution bottleneck? Borrowing and maybe even smuggling.
Yep, states have been borrowing sodium thiopental from each other, as they strain to reach their execution benchmarks. Tennessee borrowed from Arkansas (which has executions on hold), or maybe Kentucky, then Arizona did the same. But now it seems Arkansas is fresh out. Texas has enough for the year but could be dry by 2011, so don’t go asking there.
There is some sodium thiopental floating around from a British company, which led to an outcry in the UK, after Arizona used the British stuff to kill a man. California’s also got its hands on some of this good English drug, though no one is really sure how they did.
The whole thing has an air of high school marijuana dealing, doesn’t it?
One has to wonder about the conversations between prison officials in, say, Tennessee and Arkansas. You almost want it to be pure evil, like this.
Tennessee guy: Bob, our murder prevention efforts are being thwarted. If we don’t have this execution, dastardly evildoers might get less scared! The cities could explode!
Arkansas guy: Don’t worry, I’ll help. It is the will of the people, after all. This is democracy as the founders wanted. That and the Holy Book, of course. Glenn Beck says so.
Arkansas guy: Yes, it is the will of God.
Tennessee guy: An eye for an eye. So wise, the Old Testament. That Jesus guy was a p—-y.
Arkansas guy: I wish we could just get a posse together and hang this varmint instead of using this wimpy lethal injection.
But in fact, the conversation probably is something more like this:
Tennessee guy: Dan, I got a scheduling problem. We got this job up for November but we just don’t have the right materials.
Arkansas guy: What a shame. Hate to see you fall behind. Your bosses giving you crap?
Tennessee guy: You better believe it. My review is going to suck. No raise for me. You wouldn’t have any sodium thiopental, would you? I’ll buy a drink at the conference in Vegas next month.
Arkansas guy: No problem. Can’t wait to hit the slots! But you know, in the future, we’ve heard that Oklahoma is “thinking outside the box” on a new product. It’s been equine-based in the past but it has real growth potential.
Tennessee guy: Great. Can you send me a link about it? I’m so tired of sucking up to those insufferable Brits.
But, seriously, why are we so enamored with the death penalty, with its symbolism of divine vengeance but taken out in the quietest “most humane” way possible?
It’s creepy and has nothing to do with the horror of the crimes committed and everything to do with us and the way we view the world.
This is from a Washington Post blog entry by Scott Christianson, author of “The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber”:
Americans do not see themselves as blood-thirsty, cruel or punitive people … Yet America’s enduring use of the death penalty — the United States is one of the few Western countries that still resort to executions — and the fact that it imprisons more of its citizens than any other, stands in stark contrast …
Did gas really remove the inner suffering and barbarity of executions? Or does gas or injected anesthesia mask something deep in our psyche, something dark in our body politic?
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