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Death in the USA — a botched experimental execution | Death Penalty

I began my work against the death penalty in the United States in 1981. It would be reasonable to suppose that by now, four decades on, I would have seen it all.

Not so. On September 22, Alabama lost a round in a ghoulish battle to execute Alan Miller. Initially, they promised a federal judge that they were ready to experiment with a novel method — nitrogen hypoxia (essentially, suffocating him by replacing oxygen in the air with pure nitrogen). The state then had to backtrack, saying they were not sure they knew how to do it, and so they would kill him by lethal injection.

In one of those midnight battles with which I am achingly familiar, the Supreme Court voted five-to-four to let the Alabama executioners go ahead with their ritual sacrifice, but by then it was too late for their probing needles to find a vein. So, Miller is safe for a short while, though doubtless Alabama will set another date soon.

In one sense his close — and temporary — escape is a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the death penalty. The inspiration for dabbling with nitrogen hypoxia as a new “kinder, gentler” method of execution is, bizarrely, a television programme recorded several years ago by Michael Portillo, former shadow chancellor for Britain’s Conservative Party.

In the 1980s, then a member of parliament, Portillo voted to reintroduce capital punishment to the United Kingdom. The bill was defeated. His ardour for executions faded as he learned how many innocent men and women had been sentenced to die. When the subject came up again in the 1990s, he switched his vote. Thankfully, the UK never mustered a majority to step backwards to rejoin the execution governments.

Meanwhile, in 2008, Portillo made a BBC documentary titled How to Kill a Human Being, focused on making any executions as humane as possible. For his film, he toured around the US considering — and rejecting — accepted execution methods, each of which he found barbaric. There was the electric chair: Jesse Tafero had a strong claim of innocence (his co-defendant, Sunny Jacobs, was later freed and now lives in Ireland). Tafero’s head caught fire when Florida electrocuted him in 1990. Portillo illustrated this in his documentary by running 2,400 Volts through a dead pig.

The gas chamber proved no better. The Mississippi Department of Corrections used Zyklon B for their executions. They allowed a BBC crew to film them testing this out on a black bunny rabbit, which died in agony (they were preparing to kill my African-American client Edward Earl Johnson). We sued on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to put an end to this barbarism.

Next the proponents of the lethal injection “three-drug cocktail” claimed it was a more civilised way to kill someone. It was advertised as nothing more than the kind of anaesthetic applied every day in thousands of hospitals.

Yet if there is one rule, it is that the history of executions is full of false promises. They were ignoring an obvious problem: the Hippocratic Oath forbids medical professionals from “doing harm”. The task of inserting the needle was delegated to technicians who had little skill. Hence even Dr Jay Chapman, who invented the three-drug cocktail, decried botched executions carried out by incompetent people who could not find a vein.

By the way, the “three drugs” are a sedative, a paralytic and a poison. Why the paralytic? Because it prevents the witnesses from seeing the victim thrash in pain when the sedative fails. Sometimes the paralytic agent failed as well, and the victim thrashed around in pain. All of this became increasingly problematic when the drug companies announced that they did not want their life-saving medicines used to kill people.

In short, none of these methods satisfied Portillo. They were not, he said, humane. Thus far, I can agree with him, having watched six of my clients die in front of me, two executed by each system.

Therefore, Portillo took his quest to an experimental laboratory run by the Dutch air force, where they were studying the hypoxia caused by high-altitude flying. They experimented on Portillo himself: he breathed in pure nitrogen. He described a kind of euphoria as he gradually lost consciousness. All in all, it was a kind way to kill someone, he concluded, as reflected by the calm response of laboratory mice to their euthanasia.

It does not take my 40 years of experience in this dark world to see what nonsense Portillo’s claim was: experimental mice have no idea that an omnipotent and vengeful government is planning to kill them. A human being, his euphoria replaced by panic, would tear at the gas mask, and howl in terror – and we would have to adopt another protocol to protect witnesses from the horror of it all.

Yet it is the extraordinary progenesis of this new form of execution that is most shocking. Surely an American government should not elect to execute its citizens based on a television programme?

Thus it was that this week we found ourselves on the cusp of conducting a human experiment on Miller, who was convicted for shooting three people – a senseless tragedy of a nature that takes place far too often in the US. He grew up in extreme poverty in a house overrun by rodents, the family money spent on his father’s drug habit. He was represented at trial by a court-appointed lawyer who made it clear to the jury that he did not want the job.

All of this is, sadly, fairly typical of capital punishment, where those without capital get the punishment.

Perhaps none of this matters to some people. Portillo interviewed New York University law Professor Robert Blecker, wary and wiry, outside a prison. As Portillo outlined his proposal for a supposedly humane method of execution, Blecker exhibited a rising disgust. “Punishment is supposed to be painful,” he said. The idea of a killer dying easily would be the “opposite of justice”.

Blecker must be a very superior person to feel comfortable wishing agony on people he has never met, about whom he knows so little. I wonder whether he will one day change his mind, as Portillo did, in the face of the diverse fallibilities that characterise the rest of us.

Regardless, since 1947, the Nuremberg Code (PDF) has stated that “no [human] experiment should be conducted where there is reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur”. Perhaps we should accept that our grotesque human experiments should be left in centuries past, where they belong.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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‘Dilemma for the Russians’ after surrendering key Ukraine city | Russia-Ukraine war News

The recapture of Lyman city in the east – in territory recently annexed by Moscow – raises questions about how Russia can hold surrounding areas with supply routes severed.

Questions about Russia’s faltering military operation in Ukraine continue to be raised as Kyiv announced it was in full control of the key eastern city of Lyman after Moscow’s troops pulled back.

It is Kyiv’s most significant battlefield gain in weeks, providing a potential staging post for increased attacks to the east while heaping further pressure on the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that his forces had taken over Lyman after encircling it the day before.

“As of 12:30pm (09:30 GMT) Lyman is cleared fully. Thank you to our militaries, our warriors,” he said in a video address.

Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman on Sunday after announcing the previous day it was withdrawing its forces there to move to “more favourable positions”.

‘Sort of a dilemma’

The loss of Lyman is a significant blow to Russian forces, who have used the city for months as a crucial logistics and rail hub in the Donetsk region to move military equipment, troops, and other necessary supplies.

“Without those routes, it will be more difficult so it presents a sort of a dilemma for the Russians going forward,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with the Luhansk region. These are two of the four regions or oblasts that Russia annexed on Friday after people there voted in referendums, which Ukraine and the West called illegitimate.

The Institute for the Study of War, a United States-based think-tank, said the fall of Lyman suggested Russia was “deprioritizing defending Luhansk” to hold occupied territory in southern Ukraine. 

“Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as the Russian positions around Lyman collapsed,” it said

‘Courage, bravery, skills’

In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s military described the recapture of Lyman as a “significant political setback” for Moscow. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push farther into Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s capture of a city within territory of President Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation demonstrates that Ukrainians are able to push back Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

“We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with American broadcaster NBC.

Ukrainian forces have retaken swaths of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war.

A pomp-filled Kremlin annexation ceremony on Friday has failed to stem a wave of criticism within Russia of how its “special military operation” is being handled.

Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, on Saturday called for a change of strategy “right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

Other hawkish Russian figures criticised Russian generals and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but stopped short of attacking Putin.

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Will Israel and Lebanon resolve their maritime border dispute? | Oil and Gas

Video Duration 25 minutes 00 seconds

A long-running dispute between Israel and Lebanon may soon be resolved.

Both countries lay claim to the same stretch of ocean in the eastern Mediterranean that could contain lucrative gas deposits.

A US mediator has sent a written proposal to both nations to demarcate their border.

Lebanon’s government and Hezbollah have welcomed the offer. Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid also supports the deal, but former leader Benjamin Netanyahu has labelled it an “illegal hijacking” of Israeli territory.

So what is at stake?

Presenter: Folly Bah Thibault

Guests:

Laury Haytayan – Oil and gas analyst and political activist

Russell Shalev – Researcher, Kohelet Policy Forum

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Voting ends in Bosnia election set to bring little change

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Polls have closed Sunday in Bosnia’s general election in which voters chose their new leaders from among the long-established cast of sectarian candidates and their challengers who pledged to eradicate, if elected, corruption and clientelism in government.

Moments after vote count begun, Bosnia’s international overseer, Christian Schmidt, announced in a YouTube video that he was amending the country’s electoral law “to ensure functionality and timely implementation of election results.” Schmid assured citizens in the video that the changes “will in no way affect” the votes cast on Sunday for different levels of government that are part of one of the world’s most complicated institutional set-ups.

Bosnia’s power-sharing system was agreed upon in a U.S.-sponsored peace deal that ended the brutal 1992-95 war between its three main ethnic groups – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats – by dividing the country into two highly independent entities. The entities — one run by Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats – have broad autonomy but are linked by shared national institutions. All countrywide actions require consensus from all three ethnic groups.

The agreement also gave broad powers to the international high representative, the post currently held by Schmidt, including the ability to impose laws and to dismiss officials and civil servants who undermine the country’s fragile post-war ethnic balance.

The Sunday election included races for the three members of the shared Bosnian presidency; parliament deputies at the state, entity and regional levels; and the president of the country’s Serb-run part.

The traditional ruling class was challenged in the election by parties which, despite ideological differences and sometimes clashing agendas, shared the campaign promise to eradicate patronage networks and sanction acts of corruption in government.

Analysts predicted the long-entrenched nationalists who have enriched cronies and ignored the needs of the people were likely to remain dominant after the election despite deeply disappointing their constituents, largely because the sectarian post-war system of governance leaves pragmatic, reform-minded Bosnians with little incentive to vote.

However, contenders vying to replace the nationalists on the country’s tripartite presidency and in the post of the president of its Serb-run part insisted the preliminary results indicated they were wining the vote.

Election turnout on Sunday was 50% or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

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