State returns to dark, secretive process of executions

August 18, 2010 

Washington is back in the business of killing.

The state Supreme Court, in an excruciatingly explicit written opinion, has ruled that the most recent challenge to the method of execution is moot, and the execution of the next death row inmate in line may proceed.

The Department of Corrections has changed its protocol for killing human beings from three injected drugs to just one, and barring any further legal challenges, it is prepared to go ahead and kill Cal Brown on Sept. 10.

The ruling also rejects a challenge to the authority of the Department of Corrections to establish protocol for executions, although it seems somewhat of a contradiction in terms: How can ending the life of the miscreant be considered an acceptable method of “correction?”

The department needs to convene a new team of executioners, because the previous team resigned rather than have their identities exposed in the course of the court’s examination. Although the state sanctions these killings, the desire for anonymity by those who are tasked with the actual execution reflects our continued discomfort with this whole business. When Utah recently executed an inmate by firing squad, one rifle of the five that were fired carried a blank bullet, so that each of the shooters could claim some deniability as to actually committing the homicide.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna has reportedly offered reassurances that an execution team will be assembled in time for the Sept. 10 execution.

When the Department of Corrections forms its injection team, it will need to recruit people whose qualifications include “one or more years of professional experience as a certified medical assistant, phlebotomist, emergency medical technician, paramedic, military corpsman, or similar occupation.” I would assume that anyone with these qualifications received their training out of a desire to help and heal people, not to kill them.

A medical doctor will be called in to pronounce the death of the condemned man after the deadly chemical has done its job. How does this role fit with his or her vision of the healing profession? This person will be a cog in the wheel of the machinery of death, along with the execution team, the prison staff, the attorney general’s office, the governor and her staff, the Legislature, the Supreme Court, and each one of us who fails to speak out against this abhorrent practice.

The execution of Cal Brown will take place just minutes after midnight, because we will be in a hurry to get the job done; and we want it done in the dark, in the middle of the night, because we are really not comfortable with this nasty business of killing. Even for those among us who say they support the death penalty, it chafes against our sense of decency and civility. Some would define it as a matter of morality, and many would say their moral compass was calibrated in large part by their religious upbringing.

Many major faith communities have published statements or resolutions specifically opposing the use of capital punishment. These include the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, all major U.S. Jewish movements, dozens of Protestant denominations, and others.

Readers who are interested in looking at the death penalty from the perspective of various faith traditions might be interested in joining a local study group which will commence in September, sponsored by the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation.

All who oppose capital punishment are invited to join a quiet and somber vigil on the Capitol steps on the eve of Cal Brown’s execution. Contact deathpenalty@olympiafor.org or call 360-491-9093 for information about both of these events.

Alice M. Curtis, a member of the Olympian Board of Contributors, is a school social worker and social justice advocate. She can be reached at amcurtis2010@gmail.com.

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