I started my work against death penalty in the United States in 1981. It makes sense to assume that by now, four decades later, I’ve seen it all.
Not so. On September 22, Alabama lost a round in a demonic battle to execute Alan Miller. They initially promised the federal judge that they were willing to test a new method – nitrogen hypoxia (essentially, suffocating him by replacing the oxygen in the air with pure nitrogen). Bang then had to turn around, saying they weren’t sure they knew how to do it, and so they were going to kill him by lethal injection.
In one of the midnight battles I’m so familiar with, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to let the Alabama executioners perform their sacrificial rites, but it was too late for their probing needles. veins found. So Miller is safe for a short while, though there’s no doubt Alabama will set another date soon.
In a sense, his near – and temporary – prison break is a metaphor for all that is wrong with the death penalty. Oddly, the inspiration for dipping into nitrogen hypoxia as a new “kinder, gentler” method of execution was a television show recorded a few years ago by Michael Portillo, former shadow prime minister of Britain’s Conservative Party.
In the 1980s, then a member of parliament, Portillo voted to reintroduce capital Punishment to the UK. The bill was defeated. His passion for execution fades as he learns how many innocent men and women have been sentenced to death. When the topic resurfaced in the 1990s, he switched his vote. Thankfully, the UK never rallied a majority to back down to rejoin execution governments.
Meanwhile, in 2008, Portillo made a BBC documentary titled How to Kill a Human, focusing on making any execution as humane as possible. For his film, he toured the United States to consider – and refuse – to accept methods of execution, each of which he found barbaric. There’s the electric chair: Jesse Tafero has strongly pleaded not guilty (his co-defendant, Sunny Jacobs, was later released and now lives in Ireland). Tafero’s head caught fire when Florida electrocuted him in 1990. Portillo illustrated this in his documentary by running 2,400 Volts through a dead pig.
The air chamber is no better. The Mississippi Department of Corrections used Zyklon B for their executions. They allowed a BBC crew to film them testing this on a black rabbit, dying in agony (they were preparing to kill my African-American client Edward Earl Johnson). We filed a lawsuit on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to end this barbarism.
Next, proponents of lethal injection “three-drug cocktail” claim that it is a more civilized way to kill someone. It is advertised as the same anesthetic that is applied every day in thousands of hospitals.
However, if there is one rule, it is that the history of executions is full of false promises. They overlooked an obvious problem: The Hippocratic Oath forbids medical professionals from “doing harm.” The task of inserting needles is assigned to technicians with little skills. Therefore, even Dr Jay Chapman, who invented the three-drug cocktail, criticized the mock executions carried out by incompetent people who could not find a vein.
By the way, the “three drugs” are a sedative, a paralytic, and a poison. Why is it paralyzed? Because it prevents bystanders from seeing the victim writhing in pain when the sedation fails. Sometimes the numbing agent also fails, and the victim writhes in pain. All of this becomes increasingly problematic as pharmaceutical companies declare that they don’t want their life-saving drugs used to kill people.
In short, none of these methods satisfied Portillo. They are not humane, he said. So far, I can agree with him, having watched six of my clients die in front of me, two executed by each system.
So Portillo made his mission to a laboratory run by the Dutch air force, where they were studying hypoxia caused by high altitude flying. They tested themselves on Portillo: he breathed in pure nitrogen. He describes a kind of euphoria as he gradually loses consciousness. Overall, it’s a decent way to kill someone, he concludes, as demonstrated by the lab rats’ calm response to their euthanasia.
It didn’t take my 40 years of experience in this dark world to see what Portillo’s claims were nonsense: the lab rats had no idea that an almighty and vengeful government was planning to kill them. A human, euphoria replaced by panic, would tear off his gas mask and howl in terror – and we would have to adopt a different process to protect witnesses from terror. of all.
However, it is the unusual emergence of this new form of execution that is most shocking. Surely an American government shouldn’t execute its own citizens based on a TV show?
So this week we find ourselves on the cusp of conducting a human experiment on Miller, who was convicted of shooting three people – a senseless tragedy of a nature that happens all too often. in U.S.A. He grew up in extreme poverty in a house attacked by rodents, money the family spent on his father’s drug habits. He was represented at trial by a court-appointed attorney, who made it clear to the jury that he did not want the job.
All of this is, sadly, quite typical of capital punishment, in which those without capital are punished.
Perhaps none of these matters for some. Portillo interviewed New York University Law Professor Robert Blecker, alert and wise, outside a prison. As Portillo outlined his proposal for a supposedly humane method of execution, Blecker expressed growing disgust. “Punishment is supposed to be painful,” he said. The idea of a murderer dying easily would be “opposite of justice”.
Blecker must be a very advanced person to feel comfortable wishing pain on people he has never met, about whom he knows very little. I wonder if he will one day change his mind, as Portillo did, in the face of the diverse possibilities of failure that characterize the rest of us.
Notwithstanding, since 1947, the Nuremberg Code (PDF) stated that “no [human] Experiments should be conducted where there is reason to believe that death or disability will occur”. Perhaps we should accept that grotesque human experiments should be left to centuries ago, where they belong.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Al Jazeera.