Who Wants To Know?

April 3, 2009

Yesterday, the Seattle Times reported that Washington State’s execution team resigned, out of concern that their identities might be revealed during the course of a pending lawsuit over that state’s execution protocol.  This follows the resignation at the end of last year of the chief physician for Washington’s Department of Corrections, who quit out of concern that participation of his staff in executions would be unethical.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s Baze decision, which found lethal injection to be constitutional (not cruel and unusual punishment) as long as it is properly administered, lawsuits and investigations have focused on how, in fact, executions are carried out.  Inevitably, this focuses a spotlight on the men and women drawn in by our capital punishment system to actively participate in the killing of prisoners.  Efforts to shield the identities of these people, under the specious argument that their physical safety might be compromised if their names were revealed, have met strong resistance from those who believe that in a democracy we have a fundamental right to know who is carrying out policies in our name, particularly policies as profound as taking the lives of those on death row.

In Washington, a spokesman for the Attorney General said, absurdly:  “We believe the court can confirm the constitutionality of the lethal-injection procedure without knowing the qualifications, training and experience of each of the lethal-injection team members.” (emphasis mine)

Really? How?  How can any court assess an execution procedure without looking at the “qualifications, training and experience” of those carrying it out?  What if, shielded from the courts and the public, the state of Washington were to appoint a team of roller-skating lemurs to administer lethal injections; how could a court assess that protocol’s constitutionality, without knowing about the lemurs?

The fact it, as the death penalty becomes more and more unpopular, efforts to hide its ugly realities from the public are only going to increase.  All the more reason for us, as citizens in a democracy, to demand the full truth about executions carried out in our name.