In Texas today, there is apparently no expense too great when it comes to efficiently killing people, and no expense too small to be called unaffordable and cancelled if it preserves or improves quality of existence for the living.
This has nothing to do with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, or the ongoing and contentious argument over abortion; those battles are raging on their own elsewhere.
Rather, this is about the eagerness of the state of Texas to go to any expense and any length to continue dispatching prisoners on death row with clockwork efficiency and regularity, under a veil of secrecy and unknown cost, while any other state expenditures are castigated as a sign of ‘big government’ and pared back – even as those who have (rightly or wrongly) come to depend on that government support suffer grievously as a consequence.
The Guardian reports on the extraordinary lengths to which the Texas state government – which takes every opportunity to position itself as staunchly pro-life and legislate based on the ‘sanctity of human life’ – is willing to go in order to continue performing lethal injections once its current supply of lethal injection drugs runs out at the end of March:
Texas has obtained a new batch of the drugs it uses to execute death row inmates, allowing the state to continue carrying out death sentences once its existing supply expires at the end of the month.
But correction officials will not say where they bought the drugs, arguing that information must be kept secret to protect the safety of its new supplier. In interviews with the Associated Press, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice also refused to say whether providing anonymity to its new supplier of the sedative pentobarbital was a condition of its purchase.
It should be noted that Texas is not the only state to go above and beyond in its zeal to continue killing inmates – Ohio also recently switched to a new cocktail of lethal injection drugs after it found itself unable to obtain new supplies of the original formula.
The fact that no international pharmaceutical company is willing any longer to supply drugs to be used for barbaric executions was a mere obstacle to be overcome for Ohio, who found a new drug and a new supplier, and subsequently botched their first execution using the new method. One eyewitness, a priest, reported:
I was aghast. Over those 11 minutes or more he was fighting for breath, and I could see both of his fists were clenched the entire time. His gasps could be heard through the glass wall that separated us. Towards the end, the gasping faded into small puffs of his mouth. It was much like a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air that would allow it to breathe. Time dragged on and I was helpless to do anything, sitting helplessly by as he struggled for breath. I desperately wanted out of that room.
For the next four minutes or so a medical tech listened for a heart beat on both sides of his chest. That seemed to drag on too, like some final cruel ritual, preventing us from leaving. Then, at 10.53am, the warden called the time of death, they closed the curtains, and that was it.
I came out of that room feeling that I had witnessed something ghastly. I was relieved to be out in the fresh air. There is no question in my mind that Dennis McGuire suffered greatly over many minutes. I’d been told that a “normal” execution lasted five minutes – this experimental two-drug concoction had taken 26 minutes. I consider that inhumane.
But let us return to Texas, so often the protagonist in these stories. The reason given by Texas state officials for not releasing details of where their shiny new supply of lethal injection drugs came from – in response to an entirely justified request by the AP – sets a new standard for cognitive dissonance and Orwellian doublethink:
The decision to keep details about the drugs and their source secret puts the agency at odds with past rulings of the state attorney general’s office, which has said the state’s open records law requires the agency to disclose specifics about the drugs it uses to carry out lethal injections.
“We are not disclosing the identity of the pharmacy because of previous, specific threats of serious physical harm made against businesses and their employees that have provided drugs used in the lethal injection process,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.
It is already well known that Texas’ supposed devotion to the sanctity of life does not apply to those on death row, just as the state that held a prayer event to ask God to intercede and end a long-running drought is also quite happy to ignore Jesus’ teachings about mercy and forgiveness.
But now it also appears that the state of Texas is acting in this opaque and clearly antidemocratic manner because of fears for the safety of those people who are involved in producing the deadly drugs.
Imagine, for a moment, that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had instead released their statement with the following revision (amendments in brackets):
“We are not disclosing the identity of the [people and organisations involved] because of previous, specific threats of serious physical harm made against businesses and their employees that have provided [services] used in the [abortion] process.”
Pigs would fly and snow fall in hell before the state of Texas would ever consider withholding the names and details of people involved in providing abortion services out of a desire to protect their safety, even though there are many real, tangible examples of such people being subjected to harassment, intimidation, physical harm and assassination. By contrast, anti-death penalty campaigners have shown no signs of wanting to intimidate or harm those with whom they disagree.
The key difference (and reason for the massive divergence in treatment of the two groups) is that as far as those in power in Texas are concerned, anyone ever involved in facilitating an abortion is inherently evil and deserves whatever comes their way, but anyone who facilitates an execution is doing their God-fearing, patriotic duty.
And this dichotomy exists because the governing majority in Texas, from Rick “Oops” Perry on downwards, do not see the execution of an incarcerated inmate by the all-powerful government as a violation of the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill.
At this point, two disclaimers:
1. The purpose of this article is not to elicit sympathy for murderers, or even to debate the merits of the death penalty – though this blog will go on record as being resolutely against the death penalty, viewing it as a barbaric practice from a bygone age best relegated to the past.
2. Nor is the purpose of this article to debate the issue of abortion – though this blog will go on record as believing that life begins at conception, but that there are various times and circumstances (rape, incest, catastrophic developmental anomalies, risk to the life of the mother) when two equally terrible choices must be weighed and the resultant answer may come down on the side of terminating the pregnancy at the earliest opportunity; and that in these terrible, heart-wrenching circumstances, no one is better placed to make the awful decision than the mother, least of all government.
The purpose of this blog is to ask a very simple question of the Texas government: where the hell are your priorities?
Why, when Texas struggles with shameful rates of illiteracy, teen pregnancy, teen births, adults in correctional facilities, adults under probation, citizens without health insurance and food insecure children, is the state government rummaging for spare change and wasting precious time and resources in order to continue funding executions, of all things?
Why, when life is so difficult and wretched for so many Texans, is their state government more interested in preserving its ability to smite the guilty (or not guilty) than help the needy?
When conservative Texans are not threatening to secede from the United States in protest of the Tyrannical Kenyan Socialist Marxist Fascist Community-Organising Gun-Confiscating Traitor unlawfully occupying the White House, they often like to pledge their love and respect for the Constitution. Section 13 of Article 1 (Bill of Rights) of their own Texas State Constitution has this to say on the matter of punishing the guilty:
Sec.13. EXCESSIVE BAIL OR FINES; CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT; REMEDY BY DUE COURSE OF LAW. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted. All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him, in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law.
“Nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted.”
In Texas, it appears that selective reading is not limited to the Bible.