House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions

House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions
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The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties announced Wednesday it is opening an investigation into the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) July decision to resume capital punishment.

The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse Democrats launch probe into NIH and FBI suspecting Chinese Americans of espionage Barr to testify before House Judiciary panel The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders, Buttigieg do battle in New Hampshire MORE (D-Md.), and panel member Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyThere's no such thing as a free bus Don't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Tlaib says she held Omar's hand during 'triggering' moments at Trump's State of the Union speech MORE (D-Mass.), wrote to the DOJ and Federal Bureau of Prisons requesting information and documents involving the decision. And the lawmakers  expressed concerns over the adoption of a new regulation that will require federal authorities to use a single drug, pentobarbital, in federal executions.

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The drug is used by several states for lethal injections.

“We are extremely concerned about the types of facilities from which the Bureau will obtain its pentobarbital, whether the Bureau will be able to guarantee that its intended method of execution is as painless as possible, and whether the Bureau will be subject to rigorous protocols to prevent the problems that have occurred at the state level,” Raskin and Pressley wrote.

Raskin and Pressley requested copies of documents or studies the department considered in determining the new policy and copies of its execution protocol before and after the announcement. They also asked the agency to answer 11 questions, including which individuals and parties outside the agency were consulted in making the decision and what procedure the DOJ will follow to obtain pentobarbital.

They requested the information no later than Aug. 27.

The two Democrats expressed concerns over the drug, citing a report that Texas procured its pentobarbital from a pharmacy whose state license was on probation for providing dangerous drug mixtures to children and that five people executed in the state by pentobarbital said during their executions that they felt as if they were burning.

Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Trump commutes sentence of ex-Illinois Gov. Blagojevich in rash of clemency orders The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Pentagon transferring .8 billion to border wall MORE (Vt.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe CNN signs Andrew Yang as contributor Bloomberg qualifies for South Carolina primary debate MORE (N.J.), all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill to ban the death penalty in July, shortly after Pressley introduced companion legislation in the House.

“The death penalty fails by any objective measure. It is too final and too prone to error. It fails as a deterrent. It is racially biased. And it is beneath us as a nation,” said Leahy.

Several states currently bar capital punishment or have suspended the practice after past wrongful convictions were brought to light and over concerns that death sentences are disproportionately imposed on minorities. The total number of executions has declined over the last decade, in part over concerns about the racial impact of the death penalty. Only three federal executions having taken place since 1988.

The Justice Department has scheduled five executions for December 2019 and January 2020 for prisoners convicted of murdering children. 

“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrProsecutor defends initial DOJ recommendation at Stone sentencing Roger Stone sentenced to over three years in prison Trump decries lack of 'fairness' in Stone trial ahead of sentencing MORE said when announcing the new policy.

"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."