NEW YORK (VINnews) — The state of Arizona has met with outraged reactions after it refurbished and tested a gas chamber which could be used on death row inmates. The experiments involved the use of hydrogen cyanide, which experts say could form the same poisoning as that found in Zyklon B, the lethal gas used by the Nazis to murder Jews in the Holocaust.
Arizona officials have yet to confirm that the state is preparing hydrogen cyanide for use on inmates but internal documents regarding the experimental procedure were published by the Guardian last week. The state has used cyanide previously to execute death row inmates, but the last time it was used was more than 20 years ago when inmate Walter LaGrand took 18 minutes to die in an execution which led to a public outcry regarding using such methods.
“For Auschwitz survivors, the world will finally come apart at the seams, if in any place on this earth the use of Zyklon B in the killing of human beings is considered again,” Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said in an interview last week.
“In their eyes, this is a disgraceful act that is unworthy of any democracy and, moreover, insults the victims of the Holocaust,” he said.
Austria’s ambassador to the United States, Martin Weiss, wrote on Twitter that the death penalty was “itself a cruel and unusual punishment. Getting ready to use Zyklon B for executions is just beyond the pale.”
The Zyklon B gas was originally developed as a pesticide by I.G. Farben, a German chemical company, but was later employed by the Nazis as a means of mass murder in death camps. Ironically the main work to develop the pesticide was done by a German Jewish chemist, Fritz Haber, who had developed the first poison gases used in warfare in the First World War by Germany. Haber was later banned from working in his lab during the Nazi era, but died of a heart attack before the Nazis used his invention to murder his fellow Jews.
The Guardian revealed that the gas chambers in Arizona are being tested to ensure that they are airtight and also reported that the state had purchased the components required to make hydrogen cyanide gas. The dearth of other types of gas has led some states to consider alternative methods of execution, but Arizona’s protocol according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says that if the state “can’t get lethal injection drugs, then we are prepared to carry out executions with cyanide gas.”