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Supreme Court lethal injection ruling a setback

Julien Ball [administrative coordinator, Campaign to End the Death Penalty]: "Back to the killing game. That is what the Supreme Court's decision upholding the method of execution known as "lethal injection" means.

Thirty-five states that use the death penalty put prisoners to death by lethal injection — where a prisoner is given three different drugs to bring about his or her death. This method does not violate the constitutions ban on cruel and unusual punishment, according to the Supreme Courts decision.

This gives a green light to these states to dust of their death machines and start up their engines.

For seven months we got a taste of what it would be like without the death machine after a de facto halt on executions was in place. Now it's lifted. And many poor and disproportionately minority prisoners that had exhausted their appeals will likely find themselves on an execution list in the not too distant future. During that seven months we saw the "exonerated from death row" list climb to 128. Isn't it time to to recognize the unfairness, racism and error prone nature of the death penalty and do away with it?

But the Supreme Court didn't address the larger issues of the use of the death penalty itself. They instead focused on the aspect of the procedure of how someone is executed — specifically lethal injection. And even here they failed to grasp the torturous nature of this method of execution.

The problems surrounding the lethal injection protocol used in 35 states are indisputable. It is well-documented that the first drug administered often fails to sedate death row prisoners, ensuring that they suffer excruciating pain as the second and third drugs paralyze them, then stop their heart. In April 2005, the British medical journal The Lancet published a report, finding "that in 43 of the 49 executed prisoners studied the anesthetic administered during lethal injection was lower than required for surgery. In 43 percent of cases, drug levels were consistent with awareness."

The ruling in Baze v. Rees is a setback. It reverses the trend of the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the scope of the death penalty. In 2002, the court declared the execution of the mentally retarded unconstitutional, and in 2005, it banned the execution of juveniles, citing "evolving standards of decency." States, too, have bolstered this trend, as New Jersey became the first state to abolish the death penalty legislatively last December.

The Supreme Court has declared that torturing someone to death is not cruel and unusual punishment. But no matter how the chemicals are mixed, the death penalty is still cruel. It's cruel that it punishes the poor; it's cruel that it targets African-Americans and Latinos; and it's cruel that it condemns the innocent to die. The death penalty is wrong, and there's just no right way to do the wrong thing."

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