Today’s Courier Herald Column:
When you hear Georgia’s legislators talk about most items of integrity in governance, you’ll hear them talk about the need for transparency. When you hear them talk about the natural competitive advantages Georgia has to attract business, you’ll generally hear talk about logistics. And when you start talking about the logistics of how Georgia procures the drugs needed to conduct executions…wait. What was that part about transparency again?
The ongoing battle over how to stop executions in Georgia has been led by the Southern Center for Human Rights, which a couple of years ago adopted a strategy to focus on the supply chain of Georgia’s lethal injection drugs. It remains a tit for tat battle between the group and the state, with the group demonstrating an effective mix of creativity and tenacity over the issue.
In January 2011, Hospira Inc announced it would quit making Sodium Thiopental; one of the most commonly used drugs for lethal injection. International groups pressured the company to quit making the drug, with Italy refusing to allow production in the company’s only facility which produced the drug unless the company could certify that the product would not be used for lethal injection.
Days later, the Southern Center for Human Rights sought an injunction in a Georgia execution case, revealing that Georgia’s supply chain for the drug included an unlicensed pharmacy in London England which was being run from the back room of a driving school. They also argued that the drugs were mislabeled, and based on the paperwork on file for the drugs’ procurement, appeared to be expired.
In June of 2011, the group was back before the Georgia Composite Medical Board, asking for the physicians’ license of Dr. Carlo Anthony Musso to be suspended or revoked, claiming his importation of Sodium Thiopental was done without a license and violated federal and state controlled substances acts. The U.S. DEA had seized Georgia’s supply of the drug in March based on the SCHR’s earlier claims.
Various other battles between the state and the group culminated in a general stay in executions was issued last August because Georgia’s final supplies of execution drugs had expired and newer drugs were being substituted. That stay was lifted in February, but drug expiration and procurement remains a constant topic of concern. Published reports as Georgia was preparing to execute Andrew Allen Cook and Warren Hill last month indicated Georgia’s current supply was set to expire on March 1st. Cook was executed while Hill received a stay based on mental competence.
Transparency – the magic elixir that is said to fix all ethics woes – is being proposed as a late amendment to a bill before the legislature to fix this problem. More specifically, the removal of all transparency from the death penalty administration is offered. An amendment offered by Representative Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville proposes to make “state secrets” of those who conduct executions, act as pharmacist to dispense the drugs, and those who supply, dispense, compound, or prescribe the drugs.
Those supporting the amendment say that this is about keeping the personnel involved from being the victims of harassment or protest. It would seem that making those protesting or harassing these individuals illegal may be a more corrective solution if that was the true motivation.
Instead, the state appears to be trying to shield the fact that the supply channels for the drugs needed to conduct the procedures as outlined by Georgia law are closing. Many of the ways to procure the drugs to conduct lethal injections must be obtained outside of legal and licensed protocols. Making this fact a “state secret” appears to be motivated much more by the desire to thwart those who have found multiple legal loopholes to stop the procedure than it does to shield employees from harassment.
The Death Penalty is one of the state’s most powerful forms of power. As such, it is afforded the most stringent oversight available from our legal system. These items are facts and truisms. They will not change.
Georgia’s attempt to slide in legislation to avoid embarrassment as the state walks a fine line of quasi-legality in procuring drugs for a process that will remain under the highest review is likely folly. The motivation is quite transparent in this ill-advised attempt to shield legal processes from public view.