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Add Water and Kill?

James Clark,
ACLU of Southern California
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February 10, 2011

Just in: another round of documents from The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response the ACLU of Northern California’s investigation of the state’s desperate, global search for lethal injection drugs.

This time around we learn that the state corrections department has concerns about the very efficacy of the drugs. They worry because the shipment they received from their dealer in the UK is a freeze-dried powder that doesn’t come with any solution for mixing, as the FDA-approved sodium thiopental does.

“Just add water and kill” the label might read.

Naturally, after the CDCR went on a global “secret mission” to get sodium thiopental from absolutely anywhere, there were lingering concerns about what they actually received. It was, after all, marked up about $20,000 above market value and sent by an unlicensed pharmaceutical firm run out of the back of a driving school in London. To me, those sound like red flags that this international drug deal might be a little shady.

Maybe they were for the CDCR, too. Officials there sent the UK broker a series of questions asking if the drug was approved by the FDA or produced according to US standards. The broker responded by saying the drug is not FDA approved and that he didn’t know if it meets US standards. When the CDCR asked if it included the necessary diluents, that’s when the broker informed them that it’s actually just a freeze-dried powder.

Perhaps the most troubling revelation of all, though, is the CDCR’s attempt to keep all of this information secret. Things first seemed suspicious a few months ago when officials refused to disclose any public documents relating to the purchase at all, until the ACLU sued them. The latest batch of documents now brings their questionable intentions into high relief, along with officials’ attempts at spin control. One document, for example, is titled “Talking Points” and has all content blacked out. Emails regarding payment for the drug shipment show the CDCR violated it’s own procurement rules “due to political sensitivity.”

Amidst all the new revelations that keep piling up as more and more secret documents are made public, one fact has remained clear: the death penalty is broken beyond repair. On top of the death penalty’s ordinary high costs, California is now wasting tens of thousands of dollars and violating federal laws and state procedures — all to acquire a drug for executions that may not even work.

The most extreme act of government merits the highest degree of transparency, not to mention scrupulous adherence to the law. The people of California deserve better than an “add water and kill” policy made up behind closed doors. It’s time to stop shut down this failed government program known as capital punishment.

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