Americans are alone among industrialized Western countries in executing people as a punishment. We keep company with nations including Libya, North Korea and Pakistan on this issue. Our peers have long condemned us, but now they are taking things a step further: foreign governments and companies are actively preventing American states from executing condemned prisoners.
The method of choice for American executions is injection with a lethal cocktail of drugs designed to anesthetize and then kill convicts. Some of these drugs aren’t manufactured in the U.S.: the one American company that used to make one of the drugs, Hospira, quit production in part to get out of the death penalty business. The foreign companies that still make the drugs are starting to balk at supplying them to American prisons. Companies in European Union countries can’t export these drugs because of a European Commission ban. Asian companies have stopped selling lethal injection drugs to the United States for ethical reasons.
Remarkably, by withholding their products, foreign corporations are effectively overruling American states’ death penalty laws.
The number of executions in the United States is dropping, as Aviva Shen of ThinkProgress writes. In California, North Carolina, and Arkansas, there have been no executions in the last seven years because of the drug shortage. Ohio, Georgia and Texas have taken matters into their own hands by replacing the unavailable drugs with others that have not been tested or approved, a move that could bring judicial scrutiny and delayed executions. Missouri is eyeing bringing back gas chambers.
This is basically a corporate boycott of the United States, at least in Asia. In Europe it is political. Many nations that do not execute criminals have made it part of their foreign policy agendas to abolish the death penalty in other countries, so it should not be a surprise that they have started chipping away at it.
Yet parts of the American government still believe the U.S. is immune to other countries’ wills. They favor isolationism, thinking that it is entirely up to us whether to engage with the rest of the world. As John K. Glenn writes for CNN, this idea is in the ascendancy on both sides of the political aisle.
Republicans like Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are betting their presidential aspirations on it. Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik released a memo identifying “pull back from the rest of the world” as the No. 1 area of consensus across the political spectrum ahead of the 2014 elections.
Glenn suggests that Americans want to do something to protect ourselves from violent foreign radicals, but protecting ourselves from the influence of foreign morals and corporate control doesn’t appear on the radar screen.
New perspectives on perennially contentious issues like the death penalty may help broaden debate — I’m opposed to the death penalty myself and happy to hear more voices against it — but manipulation by outsiders is not welcome. The U.S. has its own political system. It is controlled by money and increasingly ineffective, yes, but I doubt that many Americans would choose to hand the reins over to a foreign company rather than continue trying to fix it.
Photo credit: Ken Piorkowski