In June, the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal against the 2001 convictions of five men imprisoned on charges of acting as unregistered agents for the Cuban government and related offences. In May 2005, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had stated that their detention was arbitrary because of the failure to guarantee them a fair trial.
Fifty-two people were executed during the year, bringing to 1,188 the total number of prisoners executed since the US Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976 and allowed executions to resume in January 1977.
In September, Ohio attempted and failed to execute Romell Broom, a 53-year-old African American man. The lethal injection team spent some two hours attempting to find a useable vein, before giving up. In November, the state authorities announced that they had decided to switch from using three drugs in lethal injections to one. On 8 December, Ohio executed Kenneth Biros using this method.
Texas executed 24 people during the year and in June carried out its 200th execution under the current governor, Rick Perry. During the year, Governor Perry faced intense criticism over the case of Cameron Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004. Details continued to emerge that the arson murders of which he was convicted may have been the result of an accidental fire.
Nine people were released from death rows during the year on grounds of innocence, bringing to more than 130 the number of such cases since 1976.
In March, New Mexico became the USA's 15th abolitionist state when the state governor signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty.
Amnesty International reports
USA: The promise of real change - President Obama's executive orders on detentions and interrogations (30 January 2009)
USA: Out of sight, out of mind, out of court? The right of Bagram detainees to judicial review (18 February 2009)
USA: Right to an effective remedy - Administration should release Guantánamo Uighurs into the USA now (19 February 2009)
USA: Different label, same policy? Administration drops ‘enemy combatant' label in Guantánamo litigation, but retains law of war framework for detentions (16 March 2009)
USA: Detainees continue to bear costs of delay and lack of remedy: Minimal judicial review for Guantánamo detainees 10 months after Boumediene (9 April 2009)
USA: Too much cruelty, too little clemency: Texas nears 200th execution under current governor (30 April 2009)
USA: Federal court rejects government's invocation of ‘state secrets privilege' in CIA ‘rendition' cases (29 April 2009)
USA: ‘Unconscionable and unconstitutional': Troy Davis facing fourth execution date in two years (19 May 2009)
USA: Trials in error: Third go at misconceived military commission experiment (16 July 2009)
USA: Blocked at every turn. The absence of effective remedy for counter-terrorism abuses (30 November 2009)