“Profoundly Disturbing, Inhumane”: Protest Against US’s Initial Nitrogen Gas Execution

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White House, UN, and EU Express Deep Concern Over First US Execution Using Nitrogen Gas

Details on the Execution and Reactions

Alabama authorities executed Kenneth Smith, a 58-year-old who was convicted of murder, on Thursday, making it the first U.S. execution using nitrogen gas. According to the reports from the source of Reader Wall, Smith suffocated from the gas pumped into a facemask.

Such a method of execution is deeply concerning to the White House and our society, said White House spokeswoman, Karine Jean-Pierre. Currently, lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the country. However, Alabama, along with Oklahoma and Mississippi, has authorized the use of nitrogen gas for executions.

Steve Marshall, Alabama’s Attorney General backed the decision, stating that the execution was carried out professionally. He also predicted more executions using nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama.

Following the gas administration, sources reported that Smith writhed and thrashed for two to four minutes, followed by approximately five minutes of heavy breathing. John Hamm, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner, confirmed Smith’s agony and stated that there was “involuntary movement” and gasping.

Global Condemnation

UN human rights chief Volker Turk, the EU, and US civil liberties groups voiced their concerns about this unprecedented method of execution. Turk labeled the use of nitrogen gas as cruel and inhumane potentially amounting to torture. Likewise, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN human rights office in Geneva, called for an end to the death penalty.

The method of execution was strongly criticized by a representative of the 27-member EU, which opposes the death penalty altogether. The representative categorized the execution as an unusually cruel punishment. Critics from the American Civil Liberties Union expressed similar viewpoints, arguing for the need to abolish the death penalty.

The White House spokeswoman also noted that President Joe Biden suspended federal executions owing to his deep concerns about the manner in which the death penalty is implemented.

The Case Background

Smith was convicted for the murder of a pastor’s wife, Elizabeth Sennett, in 1988. His co-conspirator, John Parker, who was also involved in the murder, was executed in 2010 through lethal injection. Smith experienced a botched execution attempt in November 2022.

Smith’s last words before his execution included a remark on the regressive nature of his execution, as reported by a local CBS affiliate. Nitrogen gas had not been used for execution since 1999, which involved the use of hydrogen cyanide gas. In 2023, 24 executions were carried out using lethal injections.

Following the execution, Mike Sennett, Elizabeth’s son, called it a “bittersweet” day, reiterating that his mother could not be brought back. With regards to death penalty support, a recent Gallup Poll indicated that it has dropped to its lowest level since 1972, with 53% Americans in favor. Twenty-three states in the U.S. have abolished capital punishment, and its use is currently suspended in six other states.

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