US federal government to resume executions

Capital punishment reprise comes after 16-year moratorium

Death penalty
(Image credit: Virginia Department of Corrections via Getty Images)

The US federal government will resume executing death-row inmates after a 16-year pause, the justice department has announced.

Attorney General William Barr announced that he had directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five inmates, who have been convicted of murders or rapes of children or the elderly.

They will be executed by lethal injection using a single drug, pentobarbital, which replaces a three-drug cocktail previously used in federal executions.

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In his statement, Barr said the government was moving to exact justice against the “worst criminals” and bring comfort to victims and family members.

The move lifts what was a moratorium on the federal death penalty - as opposed to state-directed executions - since 2003. Federal cases are rare compared to those prosecuted by individual states because the number of crimes that fall under the national jurisdiction is limited. They include terrorism and major drug trafficking.

Advocates argue that capital punishment is “a deterrent against serious crime”, CNN says, but opponents “point to the racial disparities of death row inmates, the financial costs, and wrongful convictions”.

The BBC says the move is in line with Donald Trump’s long-standing attitude to crime and punishment.

“The president has expressed a harsh attitude toward convicted criminals in the past,” writes North America reporter Anthony Zurcher, “claiming that they are treated too gently and given too many opportunities to appeal against their sentences.”

The move was condemned by Democrats. “The federal government should be leading the effort to end this brutal and often cruel punishment,” said Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat. Bernie Sanders said he would abolish the death penalty if elected.

A report from the NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund says there are currently 61 federal inmates on death row, including Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who planted a bomb at the Boston Marathon in 2013, and Dylann Roof, who killed nine black church members during a Bible study session in 2015 in South Carolina.

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