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Arizona prepares to use Zyklon B for executions

After suspending executions due to a botched lethal injection in 2014, Arizona now has 115 inmates awaiting execution.

Arizona's gas chamber [Getty Images]

The state of Arizona has refurbished its gas chamber and purchased chemical supplies to kill inmates using hydrogen cyanide, the same gas used by Nazi Germany to kill millions during the Holocaust.

Documents obtained by The Guardian show that Arizona’s Corrections Department hired contractors to replace windows and rubber gaskets in its gas chamber, last used 22 years ago.

State records reported by The Guardian show the Arizona prison system tested the operation of the gas chamber and officials produced detailed procedures for its use, prompting an outcry from opponents of the death penalty.

A petition circulated on May 31 by opponents of the death penalty called on Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to reject use of the gas chamber and to halt all executions.

“You have to wonder what Arizona was thinking in believing that in 2021 it is acceptable to execute people in a gas chamber with cyanide gas,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Guardian.

“Did they have anybody study the history of the Holocaust?” Dunham questioned.

Arizona is one of 27 US states that continues to impose the death penalty for crimes such as murder. It currently has 115 prisoners awaiting execution death row after it had suspended executions due to the botched death by lethal injection of a prisoner in 2014.

Executions in Arizona were carried out by hanging until 1934 when the state first began using the gas chamber.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Arizona officials said the state corrections department was “prepared to perform its legal obligation and commence the execution process as part of the legally imposed sentence, regardless of method selected”.

Arizona state law allows convicts sentenced to death to choose between the gas chamber or lethal injection. Arizona had spent $1.5m last year to obtain a supply of the drug pentobarbital for use in executions by lethal injection, according to The Guardian.

Former President Donald Trump had revived federal executions after a 17-year hiatus and allowed states to consider firing squads and gas chambers in addition to lethal injection.

There has been a limited supply of lethal drugs amid a re-evaluation by many states of the death penalty. In March, Virginia became the first US state in the South to abolish the death penalty.

Critics say the use of lethal gas, and hydrogen cyanide in particular, has caused excessively painful deaths for prisoners.

“It’s without question that lethal gas, or as least the lethal gas that Arizona is trying to bring back, is the most gruesome of all these methods we’ve had in this country,” Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno told The Washington Post.

The Arizona documents were obtained by The Guardian through a public records request.

© Al Jazeera and News Agencies, 2021


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