Execution secrecy | Arkansas Blog

Execution secrecy

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The New York Times's columnist Adam Liptak writes today (subscription required) of the sorry state response to growing evidence of botched administration of the supposedly humane lethal injections used for executions. Some states are trying to make the procedure more secret by statute. States like Arkansas and Florida (its death chamber shown here) are reluctant to identify executioners. They claim potential risk to the executioners if they are identified, though the secrecy has allowed some unqualified people to administer drugs. Liptak writes:

A forceful and persuasive article published in the Fordham Law Review in April argued for “a right to know who is hiding behind the hood.”

Its author, Ellyde Roko, who will start her third year of law school at Fordham in the fall, said in an interview that society’s interest in knowing how the death penalty is administered should outweigh the relatively flimsy interests supporting secrecy. “Not knowing who the executioners are takes away a huge check on the system,” she said.

A 2002 decision of the federal appeals court in San Francisco allowing the press and public to view executions in California supports Ms. Roko’s position.

“Even assuming an execution team member were identified by a witness, the notion of retaliation is pure speculation,” Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel. “No execution team member has ever been threatened or harmed by an inmate or by anyone outside the prison because of his participation in an execution.”

Indeed, Judge Fisher continued, there are far more likely targets for retaliation, including the warden, the governor and the judges who rejected the condemned prisoner’s appeals. And all of their names are public.

The discussion is relevant to the ACLU lawsuit in Arkansas (the Arkansas Times and I are among the plaintiffs) to provide more public access to the execution process.

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