Executions must be conducted in public view

Washington's procedure is mostly open now. Minor tweaks should be enough to conform to a court ruling.

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Executions are very serious.

When executions are conducted at the Washington State Penitentiary here, they are done in a systematic fashion with dignity and restraint.

In Washington state, like most states that use lethal injection, the act of inserting the IV into the prisoner's arm is shielded to protect the identity of those doing the procedure. The rest of the procedure can be viewed by the witnesses so there is no question the prisoner was killed.

However, a federal appeals court has ruled executions must be fully open to witnesses -- including the insertion of the IVs for lethal injections.

The specific cases the court ruled on were from Arizona and Idaho, but will likely impact Washington and Montana.

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 that every aspect of an execution should be open. It applied to the nine Western states in its jurisdiction, four of which still keep part of the procedure shielded from witnesses.

Washington and the three other states have said they are protecting the anonymity of the execution team. Open government and journalism groups counter that witnessing all aspects of an execution is the only way to determine if it is being properly carried out, The Associated Press reported.

Executions should be witnessed by law enforcement officials as well as representatives of the media who serve as the eyes of the public.

It is not necessary -- nor prudent -- to return to the days when executions were conducted as community spectacles in town squares. Executions are not done for the delight of crowds, but are conducted as a punishment for a serious crime on behalf of society.

Washington state has been conducting the procedures in an open fashion. Union-Bulletin reporters on the scene of all recent executions have been satisfied the procedures have been conducted appropriately.

Still, it is possible other states have not been as open. The court's ruling must be followed.

Given that, Washington will likely have to adjust its procedure. As a result, changes will have to occur to protect the identities of those doing the procedures so they will not suffer retaliation.

Changes could be made to the death chamber so their faces are not seen or maybe they will have to wear masks. Idaho's execution team met the court requirements by wearing surgical scrubs, masks and goggles to shield themselves from witnesses

Meeting the court's requirements should not be difficult in Washington state.

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