In Which a Civil Libertarian Praises the DEA

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Well, sort of. There’s a fascinating fight unfolding between the DEA, the European Union, and several state law enforcement agencies over sodium thiopental, the drug used by many states in their lethal injection regimen. The European Union issued a declaration against the death penalty 2008, calling for its worldwide abolition.

Since the declaration, countries like the U.K. and Germany have either prohibited or put up regulaory barriers  to prevent pharmaceutical companies from exporting the drug to the U.S. for use in state executions. Hospira, the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, recently stopped making the drug after Italy nixed the company’s plans to open a manufacturing plant there.

All of which means states are running in short supply of the drug. And there are executions to be . . . er . . . executed. So many U.S. states are doing what the rest of us do when government policy makes it difficult to get the drugs we want legally: They’re buying the stuff on the black market.

Enter the DEA:

U.S. authorities seized Georgia’s supply of a drug used in executions on Tuesday because of concerns about how it was imported, a move praised by death penalty opponents.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents took control of the state’s sodium thiopental, a sedative that attorneys for several death row inmates have said was improperly obtained.

“We commend the DEA for forcing the Department of Corrections to stop using black market execution drugs,” said Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.

Authorities offered few details about the motive for the seizure except to say there were questions about how the state had obtained the drug.

“DEA became aware of this situation today,” Special Agent Chuvalo J. Truesdell said. “We took control of the controlled substances, and it’s now a regulatory matter.”

He declined further comment because of the ongoing investigation.

No word if the DEA sent the SWAT team. But I do look forward to the feds’ attempt to seize the entire Georgia Department of Corrections under federal asset forfeiture law.

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30 Responses to “In Which a Civil Libertarian Praises the DEA”

  1. #1 |  Burdell | 

    “I do look forward to the feds’ attempt to seize the entire Georgia Department of Corrections under federal asset forfeiture law.”

    As a long-suffering resident of Georgia, you have no idea how happy that would make me.

  2. #2 |  Windy | 

    Pete, at DrugWarRant, had a good blog on this:
    http://www.drugwarrant.com/2011/03/how-much-more-surreal-can-the-dea-get/
    and, as here, there are excellent comments.

  3. #3 |  SJE | 

    I suppose they also shot up the place, killed some dogs and old people, and left.

  4. #4 |  Mattocracy | 

    Just too fucking awesome.

  5. #5 |  MDGuy | 

    mmm…delicious irony….

  6. #6 |  Dante | 

    “No word if the DEA sent the SWAT team.”

    No chance of that. Rule #1 and 2 of SWAT team deployment:

    1. Never, ever, ever use SWAT on people who might shoot back.

    2. When it is determined that the humans occupying your “target house” are unarmed (or have dogs or children), open fire.

  7. #7 |  Matt I. | 

    IMO, this is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government, to serve as a deterrent against illegal (or unconstitutional) actions by the states.

  8. #8 |  aairfccha | 

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
    Anatole France (1894)

  9. #9 |  Nick T. | 

    Was anyone arrested? Or did government flacks give other government flacks a break?

  10. #10 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    …used by many states in their lethal injection regimen….

    Oh, for heavens sake! Try “for executions.”

  11. #11 |  CRNewsom | 

    @#9 PersonFromPorlock:

    Actually, I think Radleys notation is more appropriate. The states must qualify a very specific program for lethal injection. It may be possible for them to qualify a different procedure, but the current one calls for a substance which, apparently, cannot be legally obtained.

    Lethal injection is still legal, but only if they follow the procedure, or regimen, if you prefer that terminology.

  12. #12 |  SJE | 

    @10: thats right, cos when the government kills you, its OK.

  13. #13 |  CRNewsom | 

    I never said it was ok. The only hurdle they have though is the specific procedure. I would love for this incident to lead to the abolition of capital punishment in this country, but the cynical side of me thinks that the government will simply qualify a different procedure or revert to the electric chair.

  14. #14 |  Mannie | 

    There’s no shortage of rope.

  15. #15 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #13:

    True, but the consensus in most states is that three-drug cocktails are the civilized way for the state to kill people. It’s evil bullshit, but a lot of people believe it because to the untrained observer three-drug lethal injections look less painful than other methods.

    The problem with hanging is that people look at a hanging and think, “Oh my God, they just dropped that guy through a hole in the floor and snapped his neck with a rope!” It looks violent, which it indeed is. The firing squad and the electric chair (like the three-drug cocktail, a true American original) are similarly violent. That still leaves the gas chamber, which isn’t exactly humane, either, and rightly gives some people pause for its Nazi association.

    Three-drug lethal injections are outwardly placid enough to appeal to the public’s desire for sanitized killings. In point of fact, they can be hellish if the doses are incorrectly calculated or deliberately modified by the execution team (I’ve heard credible rumors that some sadists have deliberately underanesthetized condemned inmates). Thankfully, a lot of American courts have finally recognized that the appearance of humaneness is entirely superficial.

    As for the DEA: At long last it’s targeting a type of drug trafficking that is not a victimless crime!

  16. #16 |  Righhhhhttt... | 

    “Three-drug lethal injections are outwardly placid enough to appeal to the public’s desire for sanitized killings”

    I don’t think “the public” at large desires sanitized killings. If you put executions on TV, I’m convinced they’d quickly become the highest rated shows to be found. The bloodier the better.

  17. #17 |  MacGregory | 

    Just had a “Running Man” flashback.

  18. #18 |  BSK | 

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19028_the-6-most-childish-things-ever-done-in-congress.html

    I feel like the folks here would have fun adding to this list.

  19. #19 |  James Hare | 

    “I do look forward to the feds’ attempt to seize the entire Georgia Department of Corrections under federal asset forfeiture law.”

    Thank you so much for making me smile in the midst of so much bleak crap.

  20. #20 |  Z | 

    #15- Lethal injection has its roots in Nazism as well, specifically such charming scientific endeavors as injecting the heart with benzene for shits, giggles and efficiency.

    As someone who is no fan on the death penalty and the criminal justice system as a whole, I think this story is very amusing.

  21. #21 |  rsm | 

    I’m seconding #19, that was a great laugh, and I’ve needed one of those for a while.

    Coming here and finding one is just that much sweeter.

  22. #22 |  Dan | 

    Randley,
    Why is it illegal to record others while they work on farms?
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-ia-undercovervideos,0,5047685.story

  23. #23 |  Deoxy | 

    This is an odd case, where I find myself conflicted.

    The DEA, actually enforcing the rules against other bureacrats
    vs
    An underhanded attempt to undercut existing law outside legislative or even judicial process.

    I am generally pro-death-penalty philosophically. In practice, the obvious problems in our “justice” system give me pause. As such, I would be open to some arguments against the death penalty.

    But leaving execution legal by law but impossible in actual practice due to bureaucratic bullshit is a VERY bad way to go about things. I am very much pro-life, but I wouldn’t support maneuvers like this to prevent abortion, either.

    Even so, I can certainly appreciate the DEA’s consistency here: all drugs must be obtained legally, and we’re going to enforce that against ANYBODY.

    As I’ve said quite a bit here, the best way to get rid of bad laws is to fully enforce them on everyone.

  24. #24 |  Mark Z. | 

    I am generally pro-death-penalty … I am very much pro-life

    Spot the flaw in this argument.

  25. #25 |  John C. Randolph | 

    So, the state of georgia can either tell the DEA to go screw themselves, or start executing people by hanging, electrocution or firing squad. I wonder which one they’ll go with?

    Come to think of it, they could also just put the convicted person in a house in a poor neighborhood, and then send the DEA a tip that they’ve got half an ounce of ditch weed.

    -jcr

  26. #26 |  albatross | 

    There’s a french gentleman with a new invention he’d like to sell here. Solves the problem perfectly.

  27. #27 |  Ross | 

    The most humane method of execution would be a gas chamber filled with an inert gas like Argon.

    It’s probably too humane to catch on as it gives the victims a euphoric high before they die, which given that most of them are vicious murderers will upset people.

  28. #28 |  anne | 

    Rope or bullets always seemed like a better choice to me, anyway.

  29. #29 |  tps | 

    Actually pure nitrogen is suppose to be able render you unconcious within 15 seconds and dead within a few minutes.

  30. #30 |  TGGP | 

    All executions should be public (preferably mass-broadcasted) and look shocking, so as to maximize salience. By taking advantage of our irrational overweighting of the salient, we can get the most deterrence per execution.

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