Secrecy is always bad policy

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would shield the state’s execution team and drug suppliers from the public.

Senate Bill 2237 would keep the names of employees and family members at an execution, as well as the pharmacy providing lethal drugs, secret.

The measure says anyone disclosing a secret name could be sued in civil court. Shielded are current or former members of the state execution team, current or former suppliers of the drugs, or witnesses who want to remain confidential, the Associated Press reported.

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Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, said secrecy is needed. Vice Chair Sally Doty of Brookhaven agrees.

Considering the seriousness of an execution, secrecy is just bad policy. If the state is going to carry out the death penalty, we need as much transparency in the process as possible.

Without that transparency, we are forced to trust the government to carry it out responsibly — and hold accountable those who are involved in the process. Generally speaking, we don’t trust the government to hold itself accountable.

Also at issue is the First Amendment. Trying to stop reporters and witnesses from naming people they see at an execution appears to run counter to that ever-important amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and publication.

“If we’re going to be in the business of putting people to death, there needs to be as much openness as possible,” said Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association.

There are fears that execution team members will be harassed if their identities are known. Proponents of the bill also say drug suppliers will be targeted by anti-death-penalty groups if their names are made public. The state has introduced no specific evidence of that happening in an ongoing court case, AP reported.

“We’ve had honest, hard-working Mississippi residents who have refused to work on the execution team because of fear for the safety of their families and concerns about retaliation inside and outside the prison,” Attorney General Jim Hood said in a statement.

Even if that were the case, the potential harm to execution team members and drug suppliers pales in comparison to the potential harm of shrouding the process in secrecy.