Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that condemned prisoners have a right to know the composition and sources of the drugs to be administered in carrying out the death penalty.
His comments, during an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour, come as the Justice Department is working to complete a study, ordered by President Obama in May, on the growing controversy over lethal injection.
"For the state to exercise that greatest of all powers — to end a human life — it seems to me, just on a personal level, that transparency would be a good thing and to share the information about what chemicals are being used, what drugs are being used," he said.
The nation's 32 death penalty states are struggling to find lethal drugs after suppliers of the drugs traditionally employed in lethal injections said they wanted no part of capital punishment.
Attempts to use new combinations and dosages have resulted in botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
State and federal courts have divided on whether those subject to the death penalty are entitled to know which drugs a state intends to use and where they came from.
Defense lawyers have argued that the purity and stability of the drugs can vary, depending on the quality of compounding pharmacies that formulate them and the conditions under which they are stored.
But some states have refused to provide that information, saying that the drug providers could be subjected to protest, which might lead them to cut off their supplies.
"There might not be a legal requirement for transparency and just talking about or describing the drugs that are used. But we sometimes have to go beyond that which is legally required to do something that is right," Holder said in the interview.
- Pete Williams
First published July 31 2014, 3:08 PM
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He has been covering the Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court since March 1993. Williams was also a key reporter on the Microsoft anti-trust trial and Judge Jackson's decision.
... Expand Bio
Prior to joining NBC, Williams served as a press official on Capitol Hill for many years. In 1986 he joined the Washington, D.C. staff of then Congressman Dick Cheney as press secretary and a legislative assistant. In 1989, when Cheney was named Assistant Secretary of Defense, Williams was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. While in that position, Williams was named Government Communicator of the Year in 1991 by the National Association of Government Communicators.
A native of Casper, Wyo. and a 1974 graduate of Stanford University, Williams was a reporter and news director at KTWO-TV and Radio in Casper from 1974 to 1985. Working with the Radio-Television News Directors Association, for which he served as a member of its board of directors, he successfully lobbied the Wyoming Supreme Court to permit broadcast coverage of its proceedings and twice sued Wyoming judges over pre-trial exclusion of reporters from the courtroom. For these efforts, he received a First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.