The US state of Arizona is renovating its gas chamber to prepare for the upcoming executions of prisoners. But that’s not all. According to documents obtained by Guardian journalists, Arizona authorities have spent several thousand dollars on ingredients to produce hydrogen cyanide. The same one was used in the Auschwitz camp .
Arizona wants to kill more “humanely.” But this is not always the case
Where did the new developments in connection with the death penalty in Arizona come from? In the past few months, the United States has stepped up efforts to restart its deeply flawed system of executing convicts.
2020, in terms of executing death sentences in the USA, was a special year, with the lowest number of executions in 37 years. In Arizona itself, executions were halted for 7 years after – euphemistically speaking – a botched fatal injection of Joseph Wood’s execution in 2014. 
Americans often say that injection is the “most humane” method of killing someone. This, of course, is not true. Like any other method, it ends the life of the convict in physical suffering (not to mention mental suffering). The situation is even worse when staff cannot do their job properly.  This happened in 2014 in the state of Arizona.
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“The execution logs released today by the Arizona Department of Corrections show that the drug’s experimental protocol did not work as promised,” said Dale Baich, one of Joseph Wood’s lawyers. “Instead of the single dose required by the protocol, the ADC injected 15 separate doses of the drug combination, which resulted in the longest execution in recent memory,” he adds. 
The Arizona authorities are committed to “improving” the quality of executions. In addition to the thousands of dollars spent on hydrogen cyanide, the state also purchased pellets of sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid to produce the deadly gas. In turn, the aforementioned gas chamber was built in 1949 and remained unused for 22 years. Due to the current situation, however, it was planned to be “dusted off”. 
Firing squad, chair, or injection?
This year, Virginia became the first southern US state to ban the death penalty. This is another, already the 23rd state, in which the death penalty has rightly gone down in history. However, in more than half, i.e. 27 states, it remains legal. 
The death penalty can be imposed by either a specific state or federal authorities. In 2020, the federal government carried out more executions than all states combined for the first time.  In July last year, the United States carried out the first federal execution in 17 years. Since then, the Donald Trump administration has executed 13 prisoners – three times more than the federal government in the last six decades. 
Death Injection is the primary method of execution in all states where this type of punishment may be imposed. However, other options are available in 16 states. The most common secondary method is electrocution, followed by lethal gas. In New Hampshire and Washington, hanging is a secondary method.  The fifth method is a firing squad – available in Utah and, as of May this year, in South Carolina. 
Death is uneconomic
About 41% of federal prisoners of condemned cells are black, although they only make up 13% of the US population.  According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973, more than 170 people wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in the USA have been acquitted. However, many innocent people cannot afford such appeals. 
More Americans support than oppose the death penalty. 60% of American adults are in favor of the death penalty for those who commit murder, and 27% of them strongly support it. According to the latest Pew Research Center poll, about four in ten US citizens (39%) oppose the death penalty, with 15% strongly against it. Interestingly, as many as 78% notice that there is a risk of an innocent person being sentenced to death. 
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Research conducted over the years refutes the myth that the death penalty “pays off” financially more than life imprisonment. The death penalty (at the trial and execution stage) is at least several million more expensive than life imprisonment. This is evidenced by the calculations of Florida, North Carolina, or Texas. 
During his campaign, Joe Biden announced that he would work to end federal executions. However, he did not specify how and when this would happen. 
Not only the United States
In 2020 noted Amnesty International 483 executions in 18 countries, which is a decrease of 26% compared to 2019. This is the lowest number of executions the organization has recorded in the last decade. The most publicized executions took place in China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia – in that order. 
The United States, however, is not the country with the most executions. This infamous label undoubtedly goes to China. It is worth noting, however, that the true scope of the death penalty in China is unknown, as it is data classified as a state secret. This global figure of at least 483 does not include the thousands of executions that most likely took place in China. 
Except for China, 88% of all recorded executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. 
The death penalty as a consequence of a culture of violence, and not its solution
There are many reasons why the death penalty should be banned. First, it’s inhuman and inhumane. This is confirmed by international humanitarian law, in particular the international human rights treaty – the UN’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which aims to prevent acts considered inhuman. 
Second, the death penalty disproportionately affects certain social groups. Research shows that the majority of inmates in condemned cells are mentally ill, people of color, and the poor. According to data from Mental Health America, in the United States, 5 to 10% of prisoners sentenced to death suffer from severe mental illnesses. 
Third, the death penalty often serves as an instrument of control rather than of justice. By applying the death penalty in such an arbitrary manner, the authorities make their own definitions of what is “unacceptable” in society and what is the appropriate punishment. It is a way to intimidate citizens and outright violations of human rights. 
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Fourth, it cannot be undone if new evidence comes to light. The death penalty is the final penalty. Even if the convicted person is not completely innocent, a closer look at the case can reveal discrimination, inadequate representation, and other issues proving the trial was not fair. In a society where the legal system cannot rely on justice, the death penalty is too severe. 
Fifth, the use of the death penalty has not and will not lead to a reduction in crime. Many may believe that while the death penalty is not ideal, it is worthwhile if it discourages potential criminals. However, studies show that the death penalty does not deter society and does not reduce crime. 
So let us ask ourselves a key question. If the death penalty is not only inhuman, discriminatory, and arbitrary, but often involves an end of innocent life and does not even prevent crime, why should it still exist?
Anna Słania – national and international security expert, journalist. Interested in the issues of contemporary armed conflicts, terrorism, and humanitarianism in international relations. Works in the field of peace journalism. Member of the Salam Lab team. You can follow Anna on social media: IG: @annaslania, FB: anna.slania4.
Trans. Justyna Siwiec – philologist and translator. Food and music lover interested in the history and culture of the Middle East. Member of the Salam Lab team. Follow Justyna on IG: @siwcowe
[1, 5] The Guardian, Ed Pilkington, Arizona ‘refurbishes’ its gas chamber to prepare for executions, documents reveal,
[2, 4] The Guardian, Tom Dart, Arizona inmate Joseph Wood was injected 15 times with execution drugs,
 Linda Polman, Laleczki skazańców, Wydawnictwo Czarne – if you are interested in how lives (and deaths) of people sentenced to death look, be sure to reach for this reportage.
 The myths about the alleged humanitarianism of the methods of execution in an accessible way were debunked also by John Oliver in Last Week Tonight:
 The New York Times, Hailey Fuchs, Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty,
 The Guardian, Trump, the death penalty and its links with America’s racist history,
 Death Penalty Information Center, The Death Penalty in 2020: Year End Report,
 The Independent, James Crump, Death penalty in US: Which states still have it and how common is lethal injection?,
[10, 12] The Guardian, Coral Murphy Marcos, South Carolina: new law makes inmates choose firing squad or electric chair,
 NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Report: Death Row U.S.A,
 Pew Research Center: Most Americans Favor the Death Penalty Despite Concerns About Its Administration,
 Death Penalty Information Center, Facts about the Death Penalty,
 President Biden’s website, where you can find, among others his election promises.
 Amnesty International, Death penalty in 2020: Facts and figures,
 Al Jazeera, China, Middle East dominate 2020 list of top executioners: Report,
 Amnesty international, Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2020,
[19, 22] Human Rights Watch, 5 Reasons Why The Death Penalty is Wrong,
 Amnesty International, Death Penalty and Mental Illness,
 Report, Amnesty International, Death Penalty,
 Amnesty International, Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime? Getting the Facts Straight.
Cover photo credit: Commons Wikipedia.