Arizona to use Zyklon B to kill prisoners

SS shoulder patches optional for the guards.

Not that I’m a fan of any of this, but the news stories are making hay while the sun shines; in US capital punishment by gas chamber, hydrogen cyanide has long been the preferred toxic gas, starting 20 years prior to WWII.

So if anything, the Nazis cribbed a page from the US in that regard.

I don’t really think that matters too much in this case, though. The point of referencing the Xyklon B is that the general public knows how inhumane that was to use that pesticide to kill humans. If you mentioned that the US also used the same chemical, some people would assume that it must not have been that bad, as they assume “US = good.”

And lest anyone think it is a humane way to kill (as the Nazis claimed):

I think that is unfair. Regardless of one’s feelings about the DP, just because one uses the same method of execution the Nazis used doesn’t mean that the executions themselves are comparable to Nazi genocide. I’m sure that the Nazis ate breakfast in the morning, but just because I do that doesn’t make me a Nazi.

It’s terrible; if anything the fact that the Nazis chose it means it must have been extra inhumane.

My point was that it’s not like the Arizona Dept. of Corrections went out and said “Yeah, let’s pick what the Nazis used.” It’s far more likely that they looked up their old procedures from the 1920s onward and said “Ah… so we need potassium cyanide, sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid to make this thing go.”

Well, it does kill people…

Particularly if you have a sufficiently high dose. Part of the problem with executions in the US is that we don’t have anyone with a lot of experience in doing it so the odds of a botched job go up considerably. As, unfortunately, has been shown.

The states that used to use gas chambers moved away from them not because of the Nazi atrocities (although I’m sure they did nothing to help the popularity) but because they weren’t reliably quick and humane, and toxic gas did pose some risk to people working at the place.

Not to turn this into yet another execution-method thread, but if a gas chamber can accommodate toxic cyanide vapor and hold it airtight, then why can’t authorities just put pure nitrogen into it? Same effect, and far less hazardous to the staff.

Personally, I think that makes a lot more sense. Also probably a hell of a lot cheaper to obtain nitrogen gas than the components to make hydrogen cyanide gas.

Or straight carbon monoxide. Which first puts you to sleep and you don’t need to make “pure”.

We’ve had this conversation more than once, and everyone always agrees that Nitrogen is the best method… but then someone points out some reason why not. But I can’t for the life of me think what it is. Is it something to do with commercial suppliers being unwilling to get involved?

How are you sure? Where were you between 1933 and 1945?

Hehe. You got me there.

CO is a lot more dangerous to nearby staff than nitrogen, and also doesn’t kill as painlessly. IIRC, it causes severe headaches whereas nitrogen is just zonking out asleep.

Not that I would know from experience.

I doubt that its a supply issue. Liquified nitrogen is a pretty ubiquitous substance that has got to be a whole lot easier to find than cyanide capsules. This isn’t like lethal injection where only a handful of manufactures make it world wide.

The article below gives several reasons why Nitrogen might be bad, but as far as I can tell all of those would also apply to HCN.

It is true that accidental deaths from nitrogen are not uncommon. If it leaks from cryogenic tanks, it sinks and displaces the air, doesn’t smell, and you pass out instantly and fall down if you inhale it. Maybe that’s the objection - that’s it’s just not so safe as you’d think. But - relative to what? It’s surely a hell of a lot safer than cyanide gas.

I don’t understand that article’s paragraph about “what the authorities should do if inmates hold their breath and resist.” That seems super easy - just wait them out. Nobody can hold their breath for longer than several minutes. At a certain point they must inhale the nitrogen.

(Assuming it’s a chamber, not a mask or hood, as the article mentions)

One danger: it’s explosive.

What are fire hazards and extinguishing media for carbon monoxide?

Flammable Properties: EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE GAS. Can easily ignite. Can readily form explosive mixture with air at room temperature.


Seems to be.

Obtaining nitrogen for executions would appear to be easy for the state, which, like others, has run into problems finding companies willing to provide the drugs for lethal injection.

(Ninja’ed by @buck_godot)

You could also use helium I guess…?

I understand that when Nitrogen is used on animals, it is sometimes mixed with a little carbon dioxide to encourage normal breathing.

The initial NAZI euthanasia program, killing the handicapped (including the old and babies), used carbon monoxide showers. That normalized killing unwanted people in gas showers and associated it with painless death. Pesticide came into use when they moved to killing other people.

Yes, but that assumed a regime where lethal injection drugs were plentiful and available. Now the pharmaceutical companies have denied states access to these drugs. And again, AFAIK, no Supreme Court decision outlawed the gas chamber. Some district courts and maybe even a court of appeals (not sure) held the gas chamber to be cruel and unusual punishment, but the recent decisions of the Supreme Court undermine the rationale of those cases.

It looks like this is the next move in the pro-death penalty/anti-death penalty debate. The states are striking back in saying that if we can’t have lethal injection then we will revert to our earlier methods of execution, so if you think that the gas chamber is a bad thing, then maybe give us access to the lethal injection drugs? Who blinks first is yet to be seen.

I think the general issue is that unlike all other forms of execution, execution by gas is the only one that requires an action by the condemned into order to be sucessful. With lethal injection, electrocution etc. the killing is done by outsides forces no matter what the inmate does. With execution by gas, the executioners put the inmate in a position where his next breath will kill them, and then waits for them to eventually breathe. This could cause undue psychological stress on the inmate who realize that the next breath they take will kill them.

Note I’m not saying I agree with this. I’m just laying out the argument.