Executions should not be made even less transparent

Parrish Miller Articles

A bill sitting in the Senate Judiciary & Rules committee is referred to by the shortcut, “Executions, confidentiality,” but Senate Bill 1005 is confusing confidentiality with a lack of transparency and accountability. Regardless of whether you support the death penalty on principle, intentionally ending a human life is inarguably one of the most serious decisions a government will ever make. Attempting to conceal the details of such a grave decision and process is something we would expect to see under an old-school, totalitarian dictatorship, not a modern government ostensibly by and for the people.

There are three concerning components to Senate Bill 1005. First, it exempts the “identities of individuals participating in or assisting with an execution, including the onsite physician, department of correction staff, consultants, members of the escort team and medical team” from public disclosure and declares that “notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, any such confidential information shall be privileged and shall not be subject to discovery, subpoena or other means of legal compulsion.”

Second, it also exempts the “source of any lethal substances”—e.g. execution drugs—from being disclosed. Third, it exempts “any information where the disclosure of such information could jeopardize the department’s ability to carry out an execution” from being revealed.

This third element is particularly problematic because of how broadly it is written. It could conceivably include the time and place where the execution is carried out, and even the identity of the person being executed.

Multiple botched executions in recent years have also created a very real—and growing—concern about the nature and sources of execution drugs. In Oklahoma last year, Clayton Lockett spent 45 minutes writhing in agony after execution drugs were administered, and only died when he finally had a fatal heart attack while strapped to the gurney. In Arizona, Joseph Wood spent nearly two hours last July gasping and struggling for breath before he finally died.

It is perhaps unsurprising—in light of these horrific occurrences—that the companies manufacturing these drugs would want to retreat behind a cloak of anonymity, but the answer to abject government failure is not to hide the truth from the public.

The Eighth Amendment explicitly prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” and that applies even behind closed doors.

If Idaho’s government is going to continue executing people, it must—at the absolute minimum—have the most open and transparent process possible. Every conceivable opportunity for reconsideration must be upheld, and the executions which are conducted must be carried out in the most humane way possible. It is absolutely inexcusable to use the pretext of “confidentiality” to justify concealing such critically important information from the public.