Following a death row inmate testing positive for COVID-19, several US senators Tuesday sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General requesting that he open an investigation into why the Trump administration resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. The US federal government has executed 10 people since July, and three more are scheduled for execution before President-elect Biden’s inauguration.
The letter, signed by eight US senators, warns that the “spree of executions marks a break with modern-history and decades-old practice,” noting that the federal government had only executed three people in the 50 years prior to 2003. The letter also notes that the executions are the first to occur during a presidential ‘lame duck’ period in over 100 years.
The undersigned senators have asked the inspector general to investigate five different issues. First, whether the recent spree of executions marks a reversal of DOJ policy, and if so, whether there were the appropriate analyses and reviews to allow for that policy change. Second, to determine if the recent executions exhibit any pattern of racial bias. Third, whether the Trump administration has taken appropriate steps to make sure the executions are conducted humanely and not “botched.” Fourth, they requested an investigation be opened into the monetary costs of federal executions. Lastly, they asked whether appropriate steps had been taken to ensure that all parties involved in the execution process are protected from COVID-19.
The recent spate of executions has been marked by significant controversy and several legal challenges. The DOJ also came under fire recently for its change in execution procedures, which would allow for executions to be carried out by firing squad, hanging, and gassing, among other methods.
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