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, and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Federal prosecutors are expected to push for the death penalty in both cases.
This news comes despite a growing movement opposing the death penalty in the United States. The United Nations has called for a global ban on the practice, and Amnesty International calls it "the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment." We speak with Ruth Friedman, director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, which coordinates representation, represents defendants and monitors federal death row.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The federal government is resuming the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. Attorney General William Barr announced the news Thursday, immediately ordering the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. More are expected to be scheduled. In a statement, Attorney General Barr said, quote, "The Justice Department upholds the rule of law -- and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system," he said.
There are currently 62 prisoners on federal death row, including white supremacist Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black worshipers at the historic Emanuel AMEChurch in June 2015, and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Federal prosecutors are expected to push for the death penalty in both cases. The federal government hasn't put a prisoner to death since 2003.
This news comes despite a growing movement opposing the death penalty in the United States. Advocates say they'll fight the decision in courts, calling the death penalty racist and immoral. 2020 candidates, including Senator Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, all have condemned the announcement. Joe Biden announced his opposition to the death penalty earlier this week.
Executions will be done via lethal injection, no longer a three-drug cocktail, but one drug, pentobarbital. A number of states, including Texas and Ohio, have used the drug to kill prisoners, but pharmaceutical companies have in recent years objected to their products being used for capital punishment. It's not known where the drug would be obtained for these federal executions.
Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extends to those sentenced to death. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, more than 160 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death have been exonerated since 1973.
The death penalty has been abolished in 106 countries, with another 28 having moratoriums or effectively not using the practice. The United Nations has called for a global ban on the practice, and Amnesty International calls it "the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."
Well, for more, we go to Ruth Friedman, director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, which coordinates representation, represents defendants and monitors federal death row.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ruth Friedman. Can you respond to this announcement? Were you surprised by this announcement by the attorney general, Barr, yesterday?
RUTH FRIEDMAN: We were absolutely surprised. We learned about it at the same time the rest of the public did.
It's important to know the government has had eight years to come up with an execution protocol. There's been ongoing litigation over lethal injection, which is true around the country, we've seen in all the states. And it's been true in the federal government. And the government announced eight years ago it did not have the drugs necessary to carry out an execution. And as part of litigation, it said, "We will let the court know we are working on it." And every few months they gave an update to the court, saying, "We're not ready. We don't have a protocol. We don't have a protocol."
Yesterday they announced a protocol. And at the same time, instead of going through the judicial process, they set execution dates on five individuals who were not part of that litigation. And therefore, they were able to avoid judicial scrutiny of what they were doing. They dropped it suddenly yesterday, and we were very surprised to see it.