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April 3, 2007

Why is the Bush Administration (secretly?) accepting a de facto moratorium on federal executions?

In this post yesterday, I wondered why scheduled federal executions were not going forward (and also why this reality has received no media attention).  Today I see that CDW here has confirmed that the federal execution of Bruce Webster, which had been scheduled for mid-April, was stayed (two months ago) through this little order.   (Webster was sentenced to death more than 10 years ago for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 16-year-old Lisa Rene.)

What makes the little order big news is that the Webster's motion for a stay was unopposed by the Justice Department, apparently because DOJ is content to have all federal executions on hold during litigation over lethal injection protocols.  But, as I explained here yesterday, though perhaps it made sense to hold off on federal executions when the Supreme Court took up the Hill case, Hill was decided long ago.  I see no obvious reason why the Bush Administration should now accept a de facto moratorium on federal executions. 

Does the Bush Administration or some DOJ officials seriously question the constitutionality of its lethal injection protocol?  If it doesn't, why agree to these stays?  It is quite puzzling that the same administration and Justice Department that so steadfastly defends its procedures for GITMO detainees is not actively defending its procedures for executing convicted murderers.

Ironically, in this Washington Post column today, Richard Cohen attacks Alberto Gonzales for his long-ago role helping then-Texas Governor George Bush pursue a clemency policy that suggested that Texas "executions, almost no matter what, were to proceed."  But, the real story the media should right now be exploring is the curious (and undefended?) reality that AG Gonzales is right now helping President Bush pursue a litigation policy that means that federal executions, no matter what, are not to proceed.

UPDATE:  CDW now has here a collection of some of the death row inmates filings in the federal lethal injection litigation.  But none of those documents provide any obvious reason for why the Bush Administration and the Justice Department is not vigorously defending its execution procedures and trying to move forward with scheduled dates to execute murderers convicted long ago in federal court.

April 3, 2007 at 07:33 PM | Permalink


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If BOP would do its job DOJ could do its. I'll keep saying it -- this stuff really isn't that hard!

Why do you find it so hard to believe that Justice doesn't want to torture people? These claims are real, Doug. Don't you remember Florida?

The burden should be on the Government to come up with a humane procedure. Your complaint makes it sound like you think the State can just wait these claims out. Sandbagging, one might say.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 3, 2007 9:22:12 PM

rothmatisseko: I do not believe that current LI protocols amount to torture, and I doubt many other folks see it that way.

The Florida botched execution highlights that poor procedures can cause problems, but the same is true in SuperMax prisons and throughout other parts of our criminal punishment system.

I am sure LI protocols can be improved, and if DOJ is genuinely concerned, the Bush Admin ought to be trying to make its protocol better. As you say, the stuff isn't that hard. Is there any evidence that anyone in the Bush Admin is genuinely trying to improve protocols, or is everyone just looking to avoid the problem?

Also, if the Justice Department genuinely believes that the current LI protocol amounts to torture, why isn't to trying to stop Texas and other states from using torture when it executes?

The hypocrisy seems very real, but everything else going on seem quite unreal to me.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 3, 2007 9:50:43 PM

The DOJ has acted in an appalling fashion with respect to the (now 4) executions postponed by this lethal injection nonsense. The DOJ has an obligation to argue for these executions, not agree to their postponement. Yet another reason why AGAG is a disaster as Attorney General.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 3, 2007 11:37:21 PM

One might think that Attorney General Gonzales would be a hero to the anti-death-penalty crowd for dragging his feet for an entire year, and counting, without exercising the authority given him by the Patriot Act Reauthorization to certify states for the federal fast track on habeas review in capital cases. Apparently not.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Apr 4, 2007 10:39:55 AM

"is everyone just looking to avoid the problem"


I also think this story highlights your point that the Government in general doesn't really care about executions, only prosecutions. But it also belies your feeling that anti-execution activists and lawyers care little about the endgame. Apparently the DAG agreed to a stay that would've happened anyway. CapDefWeekly site. But I can tell you that in my jurisdiction the State opposes anything like this. I guess the national will to execute is weaker than in my jurisdiction.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 4, 2007 3:20:20 PM

Regarding your substantive point, Doug, that "poor procedures can cause problems," well, at a certain point inaction becomes deliberate indifference.

And I think that given the information most people would call what happened to Angel Diaz torture.

Defenders are all for ending other problems in the criminal justice system. But I don't see how that implies we shouldn't try to fix this problem as well.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 4, 2007 3:28:00 PM

No, rothmat, most people would not call it torture. Torture is the deliberate infliction of extreme pain. There's an intent there. I'm guessing that the executioners in Florida just wanted him to go to sleep.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 4, 2007 8:53:29 PM

What about the administrators who just wanted him dead and didn't care about employment "complete idiots," as the inventor of the procedure has called them?

Semantics aside, the DAG made the right choice.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 5, 2007 2:52:56 AM

When you begin to infer intent? (NC executioners lied when they agreed to monitor consciousness.)

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 5, 2007 3:02:54 AM

Actually, the Warden lied when he said the executioners would monitor consciousness.

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Apr 5, 2007 3:39:05 AM

I am a conservative and I am sickened by the tone of this particular blog. Do you people not realize you are talking about human lives? Our judicial system is so profoundly corrupt we are no longer in any position to be murdering any human being-even when the issue of guilt appears to be clear. Enough is enough already. Our government is using a sanctioned procedure to silence people-dead men tell no tales and the majority of the American public just doesn't give a rip. It truly is sad.

Posted by: Karen | Aug 14, 2007 8:02:07 PM

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