U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced on Monday that he had directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to schedule the executions of four prisoners beginning in mid-July through the end of August.
“The decision by the federal government to move forward scheduling executions is appalling, especially at a moment when the country is clamoring for greater accountability and smarter use of resources from our legal system,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, wrote to The Appeal in an email. “Decades of the modern death penalty have taught us again and again that it is biased, arbitrary, and error-prone. States and people around the country are increasingly turning away from it.”
“As always with this administration,” she continued, “it is a distraction from the real issues the country is begging for them to deal with.”
Barr had attempted to restart executions last summer but a federal trial court blocked the move, ruling that the government’s plan for administering lethal injection was “not authorized” by federal law.
In April, a Washington, D.C., appellate court reversed that order, clearing the way for the BOP to schedule execution dates. Prisoners’ attorneys have since asked the Supreme Court to review that decision. Since it has not yet stepped in, Barr was able to move forward with his request to set the executions. They were set four weeks in advance to allow time for the justices to consider the case, according to a court filing.
Attorneys for the government and prisoners disagree over the use of pentobarbital, a barbituate that is already used to execute prisoners in some death penalty states but has never been used in federal executions. Previously, the BOP used a three-drug combination and announced its switch to pentobarbital last summer following a review of lethal injection procedures ordered by former President Barack Obama.
Prisoners’ attorneys argue that the use of pentobarbital violates the Clinton-era Federal Death Penalty Act, which they say mandates that the BOP use the same execution protocol used by the state in which the prisoners are sentenced to death. Methods differ by state.
Like other death penalty states that use pentobarbital, the BOP has refused to disclose its supplier. Such information would be “catastrophic” to the agency’s ability to execute prisoners, attorneys wrote in a June 12 court filing as part of a federal lawsuit filed by BuzzFeed News.
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