In Which a Civil Libertarian Praises the DEA


Well, sort of. There's a fascinating fight unfolding between the DEA, the European Union, and several state law enforcement agencies over sodium thiopental, the drug used by many states in their lethal injection regimen. The European Union issued a declaration against the death penalty 2008, calling for its worldwide abolition.

Since the declaration, countries like the U.K. and Germany have either prohibited or put up regulaory barriers  to prevent pharmaceutical companies from exporting the drug to the U.S. for use in state executions. Hospira, the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, recently stopped making the drug after Italy nixed the company's plans to open a manufacturing plant there.

All of which means states are running in short supply of the drug. And there are executions to be . . . er . . . executed. So many U.S. states are doing what the rest of us do when government policy makes it difficult to get the drugs we want legally: They're buying the stuff on the black market.

Enter the DEA:

U.S. authorities seized Georgia's supply of a drug used in executions on Tuesday because of concerns about how it was imported, a move praised by death penalty opponents.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents took control of the state's sodium thiopental, a sedative that attorneys for several death row inmates have said was improperly obtained.

"We commend the DEA for forcing the Department of Corrections to stop using black market execution drugs," said Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.

Authorities offered few details about the motive for the seizure except to say there were questions about how the state had obtained the drug.

"DEA became aware of this situation today," Special Agent Chuvalo J. Truesdell said. "We took control of the controlled substances, and it's now a regulatory matter."

He declined further comment because of the ongoing investigation.

No word if the DEA sent the SWAT team. But I do look forward to the feds' attempt to seize the entire Georgia Department of Corrections under federal asset forfeiture law.

NEXT: Nick Gillespie on Stossel Tonight, Talking Government Waste & Redundancy

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  1. This is asinine. Horse tranquilizer and some cyanide to the neck. We’re done here.

  2. Then need to just shoot people with a firing squad like the old days. Of course to save money, the squad could just be 1-2 people with good aim.

    1. It’s interesting how the method of execution drives the debate. Lethal injection is perceived as less barbaric than firing squad or hanging. As if the moral choice to take someone’s life depends on the method. And as I understand it, lethal injection creates a horrifying sense of drowning. A bullet to the head would presumably be more humane.

      1. I’m not sure how anyone would know what sensation lethal injection creates.

        In any case, lethal injection isn’t preferred because it makes it more pleasant for the condemned. It is preferred because it makes everyone else feel better. It allows people to pretend that execution is some clean medical procedure or something instead of what it really is: unnecessary and elective cold blooded killing. Executions should be as gruesome as possible to remind people what they are really doing.

        1. Just tell people we took the convicts to farm. They like it better out there.

          “NO, you can’t visit him on the farm!”

        2. Well, they do know the effect of the drugs. They typically use three drugs in sequence, one of which halts breathing before the person is actually dead. So they have a pretty good idea of the horror of still being alive but unable to breath. And there are cases (e.g. John Gacy) where the condemned struggled mightily, for minutes, before expiring.

          “Lethal injection is perceived as less barbaric….” some point, fewer words.

          1. poor John Gacy…

    2. One can re-use one’s rope, in reference to savings.

  3. Is killing people really so crucial that the state has to break the law to do it? Where are these inmates gonna go?

    1. Is killing people really so crucial that the state has to break the law to do it?

      Based on our foreign policy, I’m going to have to go with yes.

      1. How many state constitutions specifically empower the state to perform executions?

        1. I don’t find a specific reference in the Texas Constitution, but it does specifically address the court composition for capital punishment cases and some other aspects of capital punishment, so they obviously felt it was on the table.

        2. How many specifically empower the state to imprison people?

          1. Good question!

  4. Even if one opposes the death penalty, as I do, one should not be commending the DEA as the constitution does not grant either the legislative or the executive branch the power to (i) prohibit drugs or (ii) prevent states from purchasing that which the feds have prohibited.

    Again, the commerce clause gives the feds the power to regulate; it does not give the feds the power to prohibit or sanction monopoly over otherwise prohibited items.

    1. Another reason to oppose the death penalty is to further limit the power of the state. That objective is far more important than satisfying the retributive impulses of the sheople.

    2. Totally agree. It’s like praising Fascists for opposing Communists.

  5. dig ur own grave before a bullet to the back of the head.

    1. Hmmm… I think we could count the grave digging as a job created or saved. Great idea!

      1. Better make sure they have their Sexton Union card before they are handed a shovel!

  6. Words just fail. Aside from the federalism issues (which are many and profound), and aside from the issue of whether we should have a death penalty at all:

    Why are we pretending that this is the only way to execute someone? Jeebus, the EU and the DEA took your sodium thiopental. Ask any anesthesiologist; there are dozens of drugs that will put the convict into a peaceful slumber on their way to killing him.

    1. A change in method would trigger appeals. Any new drugs would have to go through a “cruel and unusual” review.

      1. Any new drugs would have to go through a cruel and unusual review.

        Although you intended this sentence to have a different meaning than what I took away from it, I applaud you.

        1. I did sort of nail the FDA there, didn’t I?

      2. So I shouldn’t bother writing my “fistfull of ‘Ludes and claw hammer” suggestion letter to the GA Department of Corrections?

        1. Hugh Akston|3.17.11 @ 1:31PM|#
          So I shouldn’t bother writing my “fistfull of ‘Ludes and claw hammer” suggestion letter to the GA Department of Corrections?

          Jesus Christ, that made me laugh.

      3. OK, there would be appeals.

        However, you could probably take just about any general anesthetic off the shelf, and it would give the most humane death possible. A better or at least easier death than most people will get “naturally”, so after a delay for approval, you’d be good to go.

        Not sure what, if any, jurisdiction the FDA would have. Since they aren’t being used for therapeutic purposes, probably none.

        1. Might come under EPA, where FIFRA would make it a “pesticide”. I would say the condemned would qualify under the statutory definition of “pest”: “any…form of…plant or animal life or…”.

    2. And this one’s even OTC.

      For now.

  7. I think they should use death row inmates for body doubles in movie death scenes.

    So instead of watching some actor pretend to die, we can watch the real thing.

    Let the method of death reflect the severity of the crime. Use creepy kid touchers in Saw like movies, while less heinous crimes would warrant a more tame death.

    THAT’s entertainment!

    1. The best part of living in ancient Rome, I’m thinking.

    2. What about terminally ill people?

      Do you want your grandma to die in some nursing home, her last heartbeat working its way through her pale blue veins, or do you want her to meet Chuck Norris?

      1. If they want to, why not?

      2. What was the last movie Chuck Norris was in?

      3. It’s a bit (they all are now) by Bill Hicks:

        (NSFW language)

        1. Wow, meant to say that it’s an old bit. Oh well.

    3. I’m convinced that HBO and the BBC did this for the show “Rome.” Most realistic gruesome deaths I’ve ever seen on TV.

  8. When “the state” is performing a constitutional function, that is authorized by the Constitution, then it is doing it with the people’s blessing. I for one, believe that retributive justice is fine. If you don’t like it, change the Constitution, or change voters’ minds.

    I also believe that Europe has every right to stop the export of the drug in question. There are many other ways to eliminate our death row population.

    1. I for one, believe that retributive justice is fine.

      I don’t even get to the point of deciding whether the death penalty is moral or not. I first look at the state’s track record in determining guilt, and quickly realize that the state is entirely too incompetent to be killing people. If you put the wrong guy in jail, he can at least get out later. If you kill him…oops.

      There’s some guy named “Radley Balko” (sounds made up–is he Hungarian?) who writes on this site from time to time about this sort of thing.

  9. The DEA won’t intervene if they switch to using rope. I mean, as long as the rope isn’t made of hemp.

  10. These idiots got the wrong address and shot my dog.

    RIP little Max the Yorkie…

  11. They should just give each death row inmate one cigarette. I heard just one puff will give you fatal cancer, and the second hand smoke will kill their cell mates.

  12. This is why I support hanging: with a good hangman, it’s an incredibly quick death. And, as was commonly the practice back in the day, if the crime was particularly heinous, a good hangman knew enough to give a long rope.

    Seriously, as misused as it often is, I still support the death penalty under this logic: You hear shit from Manson, but you don’t hear crap from John Wayne Gacy. In cases like that, where they killed multiple people and there isn’t a dispute that they did it, I’m okay with us, as a society, saying that you lose the right to exist after you start piling up three or four bodies.

    1. The value judgment argument asside, the flaw is in the phrase “and there isn’t a dispute that they did it”

      See, putting the government in charge of something like that gets you nifty little “mistakes” and such.

      1. See, putting the government in charge of something like that gets you nifty little “mistakes” and such.

        This. Also, the trend seems to be harsher and harsher sentencing, despite falling crime rates. I could see more and more crimes getting the death penalty.

        And I’ve said this before: Since they aren’t going to stop anytime soon (see: Texas), I don’t know why they don’t just use Carbon Monoxide.

      2. 138 exonerated death row inmates since 1970. But just little mistakes.

        And those 138 don’t even count the handful or so that were executed but possibly innocent.

        1. I just checked out a list of 9 executed inmates who were possibly innocent. 6 were Texas cases.

        2. It’s interesting that the exoneration rate is much higher for those on death row than for those serving life sentences.

          That would indicate that the extra-redundant system of appeals afforded to those sentenced to death actually helps innocent people get off.

    2. And, as was commonly the practice back in the day, if the crime was particularly heinous, a good hangman knew enough to give a long rope.

      Unless you actually hit the ground, a long rope ensures you die quicker. In a properly performed hanging, the victim dies by having his neck snapped, not strangling. Too long a rope and you run the risk of popping the head completely off.

      Or so I’ve read.

  13. I think the prisoner should get to pick how they go out. Death by snu-snu!

    1. If you’re referring to being crushed to death under a hideous, morbidly obese Jezebel poster, I wouldn’t even force such a death on criminals. And at any rate, I don’t think it would pass “cruel and unusual” review.

  14. Why they don’t just use secobarbital, or fentanyl, totally befuddles me. There are stronger, better, faster, and more readily available drugs that can be used to execute someone. More quick and painless and reliable, too. Why they decided to use a medium-large dose of a medium-strength barbiturate makes no sense. Just use a really high dose of secobarbital, a much stronger barbiturate. Or better yet, use a large dose of fentanyl… opioids would be better than barbiturates and they could use naltrexone to reverse it if there’s a screwup re: a last-minute reprieve.

    1. Well, it is government work. . . .

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