Arizona has refurbished and tested a gas chamber and purchased chemicals used to make hydrogen cyanide, according to a recent report, causing a negative reaction from its possible use on death row inmates.
Headlines noting that the chemicals could form the same poison found in Zyklon B, a deadly gas used by the Nazis, sparked further outrage, including among Auschwitz survivors in Germany and Israel, about association with the Holocaust and the use of hydrogen cyanide in death camps.
Internal documents on recent measures taken by Arizona were released last week by The Guardian. Arizona officials have not confirmed the state is preparing hydrogen cyanide for use.
Arizona last executed someone with deadly cyanide in 1999, when a death row inmate Walter LaGrand took 18 minutes to die in an execution that also fueled an uproar in Germany.
“For the survivors of Auschwitz, the world will eventually collapse, if somewhere on this earth the use of Zyklon B in the murder of human beings is again considered”, Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the Auschwitz International Committee said in an interview on Wednesday.
“In their eyes, it is a shameful act which is unworthy of any democracy and, in addition, insults the victims of the Holocaust”, he declared.
Austrian Ambassador to the United States Martin Weiss wrote on Twitter that the death penalty was “in itself a cruel and unusual punishment.” Preparing to use the Zyklon B for executions is simply flawless. “
Zyklon B was the trade name for a product that was originally developed as a pesticide and was later chosen as a means of mass murder in Nazi camps. It was produced by IG Farben, a German chemical conglomerate dismantled after World War II.
The Guardian released documents from the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reintegration on Friday. One of them, a note dated December 17, described an assessment conducted in August to determine whether a gas chamber in Florence was functional.
The document showed that a smoke grenade had exploded inside the chamber to ensure it was airtight, and that the fan and exhaust functions were also tested. A candle was held up to sealed areas, such as doors and windows, at installation. No flame deflection was observed, according to the report.
Overall, no “functionality issues” were detected and the “vessel is operational,” the document states.
The Guardian, which obtained state documents and redacted invoices through public document requests, also reported that in December Arizona purchased the components to make the hydrogen cyanide gas.
The Department of Corrections declined to comment, and it was not immediately clear where the agency had purchased the chemicals. The Arizona state constitution states that inmates can choose between lethal injection or lethal gas if they committed their offense before November 23, 1992.
A deadly drug shortage has framed the death penalty debate in the United States, and prompted several states to seek alternatives, such as in South Carolina, where lawmakers have proposed either the electric chair or the firing squad. .
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Wednesday that Arizona’s protocol designates sodium cyanide as a lethal gas to be used for executions. The documents, he said, suggest that if the state “cannot obtain lethal injection drugs, then we are prepared to carry out executions with cyanide gas.”
Asked about Arizona’s reported purchase of supplies to make hydrogen cyanide, he said, “There’s no guarantee that just because this violates their protocol, they won’t.”
He added, “The question is whether, in the 21st century, it is appropriate for a state in the United States to execute prisoners with cyanide gas.
There are 115 inmates on death row in Arizona. Arizona has not carried out any executions since 2014, and the last time it did so with hydrocyanic gas was in 1999.
In April, state attorney general Mark Brnovich said he informed the Arizona Supreme Court that the state intended to seek execution warrants for two death row inmates, Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon.
Men can choose between lethal injection or gas under state law that allows them a choice, as they committed murders before Nov. 23, 1992, according to his statement.
CJ Karamargin, spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, referred to the state constitution and said the governor “has said in the past that it is the law and it is his duty to apply it “.
The report on gas chamber testing and the purchase of chemicals was picked up by national news outlets and circulated internationally, sparking particular outrage in Europe.
During World War II, concentration camps were designed for the use of Zyklon B pellets, notably at the Auschwitz camp in German-occupied Poland. At the height of the deportations of Jews from 1943 to 1944, an average of 6,000 Jews were killed each day at Auschwitz.
“What we do know is that of the 1.1 million people murdered at Auschwitz, 865,000 of them were Jews who were gassed with Zyklon B in the gas chambers, most on arrival. “said Patricia Heberer Rice, senior historian in the United States. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In Germany and Austria, where a culture of atonement for the crimes of the Nazis led to the banning of Nazi symbols, the erection of monuments in honor of Jewish and other victims, and the teaching of lessons of stories meant to ensure that future generations “did not repeat their transgressions again, the headlines in the media reflected a sense of disbelief and dismay.
“Holocaust Gas Executions: Arizona To Use Zyklon B,” read the headline in Kurier, an Austrian daily.
“The Nazis gassed millions of Jews with the poison,” the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel reported. “Now the Republican-led state of Arizona wants to use Zyklon B, of all things, for executions.”
“When you hear ‘Zyklon B’ you automatically think of the Nazi gas chambers, where they murdered millions of people,” news channel n-tv.de wrote. “Now the gas is to be used again, in the US state of Arizona.”
The association of gas and the Holocaust has also been quoted in the Israeli press. The Jerusalem Post reported this week that the name Zyklon B “is inextricably linked with the horrors of the past, when more than a million Jews and others were murdered in Nazi gas chambers using deadly gas between 1942 and 1945 ”.
Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.