Monday, January 21, 2008

The "Secrecy" of Lethal Injection (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the "unusual secrecy" surrounding the debate over lethal injection and execution protocols around the country. A central contention in the debate is over the identity of the executioner (or execution team members) since their training, or lack thereof, is key to understanding whether the method might violate the 8th amendment.

This story reports that inmates in Missouri are now suing in federal court to learn the identity of their executioners "after a newspaper revealed that a nurse on the team was once accused of stalking."

"The lawyers filed papers last week in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, arguing that the executioner's criminal record raises questions about his ''temperament and suitability'' to help with executions. The newspaper named the nurse despite a new state law that prohibits knowingly disclosing the identity of a current or former execution team member, and makes it easier for them to seek civil damages if their names are exposed. The newspaper believes the law is unconstitutional[...]"

As I wrote previously, states have always tried to hide the identity of their executioners, ostensibly in the name of "public safety" and the palpable fear that something may happen to a team member if word were to leak of their occupational duties to the general public.

However, the secrecy is also shrouded in the desire to prevent any potential law suits over botched executions. As the article notes in an astounding footnote, Missouri's law "was passed after the newspaper identified a doctor who measured lethal drugs but is dyslexic."

It will be interesting to see how the courts rule on this issue. Does the 1st amendment guarantee newspapers the right to publish the identities of the men and women who represent us when we, the state, take another person's life? Does the state have a reasonable duty to protect those individuals tasked with such a life and death responsibility from being identified in a public way? Should we know whether these people are up to the task?

No comments: