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Unusual allies align to oppose state’s execution secrecy plan

Unusual allies align to oppose state’s execution secrecy plan

Dustin Hurst
January 28, 2015
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January 28, 2015

An unusual consortium of political groups has aligned to oppose the Idaho Department of Correction’s plan to add more secrecy to state executions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, the Idaho Freedom Foundation and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, three groups not always aligned on policy, have come out against the department proposal, which would shield from public disclosure the names of execution chemical suppliers.

Members of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee introduced the bill last week, and the measure awaits more discussion in that panel.

Kathy Griesmyer, the legislative liaison for the ACLU of Idaho, suggested the measure flies in the face of public transparency. “To be fully accountable, Idaho must provide the public, defendants and courts information about the process to ensure it is humane and in compliance with state and federal laws and the U.S. Constitution,” she told IdahoReporter.com.

“This amendment to Idaho statute not only would shield the identities of those involved in carrying out state executions, but it would also limit both public and court access to knowledge surrounding the type of drugs being used and the source of the drugs,” she added.

The legislation would insert into state code legal blocks preventing disclosure of the names of agency staffers and medical personnel participating in the execution process. The measure would also give the agency broad power to block disclosure of “any information” that would prevent the state from carrying out executions.

Parrish Miller, a policy analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, suggested the line of code might give the state too much latitude. “It could conceivably include the time and place where the execution is carried out, and even the identity of the person being executed,” Miller wrote Tuesday.

Marc Hyden, the national policy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, said politicos on his side of the ideological fence should feel deep skepticism of the measure.

“Conservatives should always be skeptical when the state attempts to shroud its activities in secrecy,” Hyden wrote in an email. “The people of Idaho deserve to know where their taxes are being spent and what those funds are purchasing.”

But the state agency wants onlookers to know the changes they want only reflect how its workers already conduct executions.

“We're asking for this change not because the IDAPA rule is inadequate, but because of the importance we place on this issue,” Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray explained.

“Think of it this way: Reporters, in some circumstances, rely on anonymous sources. The reporters promise the sources their identities will not be revealed,” Ray added. “Likewise, the Department of Correction relies on a team of dedicated professionals to fulfill legislative and judicial intent in carrying out sentences of death.”

Ray didn’t address the need to protect chemical suppliers from disclosure. He did say the agency has received records requests for that information in the past, but used state administrative rules to block the queries.

State administrative rules also already protect from disclosure the names of staffers and medical attendants who carry out executions.

Josh Tewalt, one of the agency’s prison administrators, told the Senate panel the state needs to block disclosure due to recent media attention surrounding botched executions in Arizona and Oklahoma.

Still, skeptics don’t buy into the agency’s pitch.

“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,” Miller cautioned.

Hyden warned the measure could lead to some nefarious activities.

“Concealing the source of the death penalty drugs has nothing to do with national security,” Hyden said. “So, there is no reason why the state should keep expenditures of public funds like this a secret. This form of secrecy in the hands of the government often leads to corruption and abuse.”

Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com. 

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