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Trump administration permits firing squad and poison gas executions with new rule

Having reinstated federal capital punishment the Trump administration is scrambling to expand the number of ways that the federal government can execute prisoners before the president leaves office in January.The default method is lethal injection unless a judge specifically orders otherwise but under a rule scheduled to take effect next month, death by firing squad…

Having reinstated federal capital punishment the Trump administration is scrambling to expand the number of ways that the federal government can execute prisoners before the president leaves office in January.

The default method is lethal injection unless a judge specifically orders otherwise but under a rule scheduled to take effect next month, death by firing squad and by electrocution are among the extra methods that will be permitted.

The proposal brings federal executions into line with the varied means available to executioners in individual states, such as Alabama, where prisoners can elect to be killed by electrocution or nitrogen hypoxia (a lethal gas dose) instead of by deadly injection.

In Utah a 2015 law states that a firing squad shall be deployed to carry out executions if the substances required for a lethal injection are unavailable.

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The new law, first reported by ProPublica — a not-for-profit body in New York City that produces investigative journalism in the public interest — specifies that the government may conduct executions by lethal injection, by a method designated by a court, “or by any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed”.

The Department of Justice intends to execute five inmates before January 20, which would bring to 13 the total number of federal death row prisoners executed after the White House approved the reinstatement of federal executions for death-row inmates last year.

All of them will have been killed since July, making the period among the deadliest in the past century for federal capital punishment, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Only three other federal inmates have been executed since 1988.

Joe Biden, the president-elect, will have the power to rescind the new rule. He has signalled his opposition to the federal death penalty.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre, a non-profit group that distributes reports on capital punishment, said that the new rule would reduce the number and complexity of legal challenges to executions, but would then quickly become redundant under an administration that elects not to execute inmates.

Mr Dunham told The New York Times: “It tells us more about how much the administration wants to kill prisoners than it does about any real correctional need.”

—From The Times News Service, London

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