– A kind of grotesque proof that you are still president for a few more weeks, and that you must use the power you have to take the lives of people, thunders Amnesty Norway.
On Friday last week, the Trump administration ordered the federal prison authorities (The Bureau of Prisons) to execute three federal death sentences during the transition period. Justice Minister William Barr has already ordered the execution of two death sentences before incoming President Joe Biden is inaugurated as the new president of the United States on January 20.
The five planned executions are referred to as “lame duck_ executions, as they will be carried out in the transition period between the presidential election and the inauguration. The term “lame duck” is used to refer to outgoing leaders with seemingly limited power.
This will be the first time in almost 132 years that an outgoing president is carrying out so-called “lame duck” executions at the federal level, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
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The Trump administration has already carried out eight federal executions so far this year. The previous federal execution was carried out as late as Thursday last week. It comes after a 17-year stay in federal executions.
– I do not know how to describe the circus Trump has started with these federal executions. There have been no federal executions in 17 years. And the fact that there have been no federal death sentences in the “lame duck” period of 132 years, something I was not aware of, only makes it even worse, says Secretary General of Amnesty Norway, John Peder Egenæs, to Nettavisen.
– A political game with human life
The last time the federal state carried out an execution for a federal crime during the transition period between a presidential election and the inauguration of a new president was in 1889.
President Grover Cleveland then approved three federal executions during the “lame duck” period between the November 6, 1888 presidential election and the inauguration of President Benjamin Harris on March 4, 1889. The last execution was performed on January 25, 1889.
– This is a kind of political game with human life. This testifies to nothing but a show from Trump and Barr. What is the purpose of executing these people in the middle of this transition period? He is an outgoing president. Then he should leave decisions about life and death, which are not absolutely necessary, to the next president, Egenæs says.
– It becomes for me a kind of grotesque proof that you are still president for a few more weeks, and that you must use the power you have to take the lives of people, he says.
– A grotesque farewell greeting
To date, Donald Trump is the president who has carried out the most federal executions since Harry Truman in 1924. All of the eight federal executions that have so far taken place on Trump’s watch took place in 2020.
– In the federal context, one must be able to call it a wave of executions, Egenæs says.
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If the five more federal executions are carried out as planned before Trump’s presidency is over Jan. 20, he will be the president to carry out the most federal executions since the Cleveland administration executed 16 people in 1896, according to the DPIC. President Cleveland had two incoherent presidencies.
– One could perhaps imagine that federal executions he carried out before the election could appeal to his constituency, that he is “tough on crime”. But now after the election, there is no such intention. It will be completely beyond. It is completely incomprehensible. It will be a kind of grotesque farewell to the American people and Joe Biden, says Egenæs.
Biden wants to abolish the death penalty
Incumbent President Biden has previously stated that he is opposed to the death penalty. This weekend, Biden signaled once again that he will try to abolish the death penalty at the federal level.
The incoming president is opposed to the death penalty, both now and in the future, and as president will work to abolish it, said spokesman for the Biden-Harris campaign, TJ Ducklo, in a statement on Saturday, according to Axios.
Egenæs says it is unusual for an incoming president to be so clear in his opposition to the death penalty.
“The fact that the Biden campaign says something about this at all, and is considering attempts to get it removed from the law books, is gratifying and a long step forward in the fight against the death penalty in the United States,” he says.
The fact that a presidential candidate or incoming president flags opposition to the death penalty has not happened since Michael Dukais was a presidential candidate. He was an active opponent of the death penalty, says Egenæs.
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Dukakis lost a lot of support when he showed his opposition to the death penalty during the presidential campaign in 1988. He lost the election to George Bush senior.
– It says something about the mood around the death penalty in the US is about to change. There has been a cautious development with opposition to the death penalty. Obama would not have flagged that he was against the death penalty, but might have whispered it in the back room, Egenæs says.
Seven executions at the state level in 2020
In the United States, there are now 28 states that still practice the death penalty. This year, the states have carried out a total of seven executions, in addition to the fact that one execution is planned for 4 December.
Federal capital punishment falls under the federal criminal justice system, and can be convicted of crimes such as treason, espionage, murder, extensive drug crimes and attempted murder of witnesses and jurors in certain cases. However, the majority of the death sentences are imposed at the state level.
Federal death penalty applies to all 50 states, but is used relatively infrequently. Currently, there are about 60 death row inmates imprisoned for federal crimes, according to DPIC.
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Breaks with American norms
DPIC director Robert Dunham believes the Trump administration’s “lame duck” executions violate American norms and tradition.
– If the administration had followed the usual and civilized rules that have been followed throughout the country’s history, this would not have been an issue. The executions would not have taken place, Dunham told The New York Times recently.
Dunham tells The Washington Post that it is formally the US Department of Justice that decides when a federal death sentence should be executed, but points out that it is different in practice.
– If the president does not want to carry out executions, they will not be carried out under that administration, he says.
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Democratic members of Congress have asked Justice Minister Barr to postpone the execution of executions during the transition period. They justify this with, among other things, considerations of infection control, and point out that almost all states have postponed executions in the pandemic due to infection control considerations.
Three U.S. senators have also asked Attorney General Barr to postpone the “lame duck” executions “so that the incoming Biden-Harris administration can evaluate and decide on the future use of the death penalty at the federal level.”
Convicted of heinous crimes
The Trump administration has given the go-ahead for as many as five federal executions during the transition period. The last two executions will take place just a few days before Biden is sworn in as the country’s new president. All those sentenced to death have been convicted of committing heinous crimes, according to the Associated Press.
Alfred Bourgeois is scheduled to be executed on December 11. He was sentenced to death for torture, sexual assault and murder of his two and a half year old daughter in 2004.
Cory Johnson is scheduled to be executed on January 14. Johnson has been convicted of seven murders in drug-related settlements. The defense lawyers claim that he is mentally retarded, and that it would therefore be unconstitutional to execute him.
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Dustin Higgs is scheduled to be executed on January 15. He was convicted of kidnapping three women and ordering a friend to shoot and kill the women in 1996. Higgs has also been declared mentally retarded by defenders.
Lisa M. Montgomery is to be executed on December 8th. She was convicted of the murder of a pregnant woman and the kidnapping of a child in 2004. Montgomery killed the pregnant woman by strangulation, cut the child out of her womb and fled the scene. She tried to pretend that the child was her own.
Brandon Bernard is due to be executed on December 10. He was convicted of the murder of a couple in 1999. He hijacked a car and shot the couple in the car. Then he lit the car with the two inside.
In addition to this, the Trump administration has carried out eight federal executions in 2020. The last in a row so far is the execution of Orlando Hall last Thursday. He was sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping and burying a teenage girl alive in 1994.
President William Howard Taft was admittedly president during a so-called “lame duck” execution in February 1913 after the election defeat against Woodward Wilson in the autumn of 1912, but the execution was carried out on the basis of a crime committed under local laws in the District of Colombia.
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