'Cruel and Barbaric' US Executions Violate International Law: Lawyers

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Common Dreams

'Cruel and Barbaric' US Executions Violate International Law: Lawyers

ACLU petitions international human rights body to intervene against planned executions likely using experimental drugs

The lethal injection bed used in the "Old Main," the retired Southern part of the Penitentiary of New Mexico. (Photo: Ken Piorkowski / Flickr Creative Commons)

According to all publicly available information, 45-year-old Rusty Bucklew is slated this week to become the latest person in the United States to die by the experimental lethal injection drug implicated in a grisly botched execution in Oklahoma last month. Now a group of lawyers has taken the step of petitioning an international human rights body to intervene against this and another planned execution on the grounds that the killings would violate treaties protecting human rights.

In a petition filed Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union called for the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to ask the U.S. government for a stay of executions planned in Missouri and Oklahoma that they say would subject men on death row to "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" and violate their rights to "be free from human experimentation without consent."

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project, told Common Dreams that, while this international body does not have jurisdiction to directly stop an execution, "they can ask the U.S. government to halt the executions, and the Obama administration could then, in turn, ask Missouri and Oklahoma to respond to precautionary measures."

Bucklew is slated for execution May 21st, likely using compounded pentobarbital, which has been implicated in a series of botched executions, including that of Clayton Lockett, killed by the state of Oklahoma in April. Lockett writhed in pain after the execution was initiated, only to have the lethal injection called off after the drugs were deemed not to be working properly. Yet Lockett was then killed by a heart-attacked in a horrific scene that garnered global condemnation.

"We know that the drug protocol in Missouri is pentobarbital," explained Stubbs, adding that there is no way to absolutely confirm that the drug will in fact be used because the state is concealing information about the execution. "There is no form of accountability currently that would give confidence about the efficacy of a drug or what it is," she said.

In an interview with the Guardian last week, Bucklew stated, “If you don’t have anything to hide, then you put it out in the open. It’s that simple." He added, "Am I gonna get all screwed up here? Are they gonna screw it up? And you know if anything can go wrong in Missouri, then it's gonna go wrong.”

According to the ACLU's petition, the pain of the execution will be worsened by Bucklew's medical condition of cavernous hemangioma, which blocks his airways and causes bleeding and tumors.

The ACLU is also seeking to halt the execution of Charles Warner, who is slated to die at the hands of the state of Oklahoma in November. Warner was recently granted a six month stay of execution by Oklahoma's attorney general following the horrific death of Lockett.

Yet, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has refused to conduct a third-party, independent investigation into Lockett's death and has concealed information about the drugs used in state executions. Last week, a coalition of news agencies filed suit (pdf) against the state of Oklahoma, in a bid to force them to disclose the content and origin of the execution drugs.

The ACLU is asking for a stay of the executions, for state governments to disclose the information about executions that they have concealed, and for an independent investigation in Oklahoma.

"Lethal injection in the United States has reached such a level of barbarism that the world needs to know the facts," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, in a statement released Monday. "The application of the death penalty itself in the U.S. violates international human rights standards, yet we continue to administer it with methods shown over and over to flout our own constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It’s time for the depravity to end."

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