President Obama declared this week's botched Oklahoma execution “deeply disturbing” and directed Attorney General Eric Holder to review how the death penalty is applied in the U.S., reports the New York Times. Weighing in on a polarizing issue that he rarely discusses, Obama said the Oklahoma episode, in which a prisoner remained groaning in pain after sedatives were not fully delivered, underscored concerns with capital punishment as it is carried out today. While reiterating his support for the death penalty in certain cases, Obama said Americans should “ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions” about its use. The Justice Department outlined a narrow review focused on how executions are carried out rather than assessing the entire system.
Whether Obama's concerns lead to policy proposals was uncertain. The administration review comes at a time when the use of the death penalty in the U.S. has begun to recede. The number of executions has fallen by half since its modern peak in 2000, while a half-dozen states have abolished capital punishment over the last seven years and others have imposed moratoriums or are exploring legislation to repeal it. The federal government has effectively imposed its own moratorium on carrying out executions since 2010 while trying to figure out issues surrounding the drug cocktail commonly used for lethal injection.