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Opinion | Alabama should put a moratorium on executions

Alabama has lost the moral high ground required to stand as executioner. It should at least pause executions until it regains it.

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Maybe Alabama just shouldn’t attempt to execute anyone else. 

I know, I know – a completely crazy idea in this all-life-is-sacred state, but hear me out for a minute. Because on Thursday evening, Alabama botched yet another execution. 

This time, the crack staff at Holman Correctional Facility took so long to find a vein in order to administer the poisonous cocktail that would end the life of Kenneth Eugene Smith, they had to call the whole thing off. 

This failed attempt came on the heels of another failed vein-finding in September and the absolute butchering of a human being in July. 

What really happened in any of these instances, we’ll never really know, because the Alabama Department of Corrections keeps its execution protocols top secret and never discloses details of successful or unsuccessful execution attempts. Well, unless it’s forced to do so by a court. 

Which it often is. Alabama’s death penalty process has been a goldmine for attorneys in the state. 

From the numerous appeals it must defend to the protocols it fights to keep secret to the drugs and death processes it tries to implement, Alabama taxpayers have unloaded tens of millions of dollars on legal fees over the years. All in an effort to kill other humans. 

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To be more precise: To clumsily attempt to kill other humans. 

It’s time to stop. 

Now, before we move much further, you should know one thing: Bleeding heart liberal that I am, I am not anti-death penalty. 

I believe that the execution should be transparent and much more open to the public. I believe that the protocols, including the drugs being used, should be shared with the public and media, and that a step-by-step accounting should be available afterwards. I believe that the person being executed should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect and that the state should behave in a manner befitting an entity carrying the weight of ending a human life. And I believe that the legal process should bend towards ensuring the guilt of a man sentenced to death instead of the ridiculous and unfair process in place now that leaves obviously innocent men and women locked in cages, or, even worse, put to death for crimes they didn’t commit. 

Why anyone would expect, or accept, less than the above is a complete mystery to me. 

I mean, my God, we’re talking about ending a human life here. In a land where we claim to be so serious about the sanctity of life that we’ll force – through the threat of imprisonment –  a child to carry rape pregnancy to term. 

We shouldn’t be talking about the inability to find veins or trying to buy suspect lethal injection drugs on the black market. We shouldn’t be hiding protocols. We shouldn’t be covering up medical procedures. And we shouldn’t be botching the majority of our executions. 

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It’s not right and we all know it. 

And no amount of discussing the incarcerated man’s past crimes can absolve us of these failures. I’m so sick of seeing statements from the governor’s office or the AG’s office that use the death row inmate’s crimes as an excuse to move forward with an execution process they know will be flawed, or the execution of a person with mental deficiencies. 

It’s a cop-out. It’s using the idea of revenge as a facade to mask the fact that the state isn’t living up to the lofty standard required to carry out executions. 

Because the death penalty isn’t about revenge. If it is, then we’re no better than the people committing crimes. 

And right now, Alabama very much isn’t any better than the men on death row. In fact, when it comes to our Department of Corrections, we might have less moral standing. 

We have, through sheer neglect and personal indifference, allowed our prison system to become a hell on earth. A place where, under watch by paid employees of the state, men and women are routinely tortured to death. Beaten beyond recognition. Sodomized. Raped. Terrorized to the point of psychotic breaks. Starved. Denied basic medical care. Refused necessary medication. Murdered. 

In some instances – and now with the full knowledge of the state in some cases – those crimes are carried out by state employees. Covered up by state employees. Defended by state employees and well paid attorneys hired by state employees using taxpayer dollars. 

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And none of what I’ve just typed is refutable. It’s all included in court documents, available for any resident of this country to read, submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Very little of it is even denied. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Alabama cannot carry out a humane execution. It has not conducted itself humanely in the operation of any aspect of this state’s correctional system. 

This state long ago lost the moral high ground required to stand as executioner of humans. And we should put a moratorium on executions until we regain it.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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