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Botched execution: America’s tarnished image

The bungled execution of an inmate in Oklahoma on Tuesday may not change a lot of minds in the longstanding American wrangle over the death penalty, but it draws attention to an often-overlooked factor in that debate: The US death penalty strikes many foreigners as barbaric, and erodes US credibility in promoting human rights abroad. Close US allies like Britain and France condemned the killing, and commenters abroad compared it to the actions of regimes like North Korea.

The comparison, unfortunately, is understandable. In its effort to make the death penalty look painless and antiseptic using an untested lethal-injection method, Oklahoma instead ended up inflicting a barbaric death on convicted killer Clayton D. Lockett, who writhed and groaned. Officials stopped the process, but he died a few minutes later of a heart attack.

When they realized that something was going wrong, the panicking officials in Oklahoma closed the curtains that allow observers to view the execution. But the reality of death penalty in the United States has grown impossible to conceal from the world. The White House issued a careful condemnation of the bungled execution. But the federal government, and states that continue to impose capital punishment, need to confront the grave damage they are doing to America’s standing in the world by persisting in increasingly backward policies.


More coverage: What botched executions tell us about the death penalty