Our constitutional standards dictate that when the state punishes crime by killing the criminal, the act must be humane—not “cruel or unusual.”  Those states moving to lethal injection as a less brutal method of execution than, say, electrocution or gassing are thus left with only two real bases for legal challenge in this context. Do the injected chemicals themselves cause avoidable physiological torment once in the system, or does the search for an optimum blood vessel to inject involve needlessly hurtful trial and error?

The latter issue can be monitored by those the state permits to witness executions only if it is not hidden from them, but shrouding these preliminaries from observation has continued to be a practice in the State of Idaho until now, when journalists have convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that a decision it reached in a case involving a San Quentin injection in the 1990s should set the standard for an impending execution in Boise: let the whole process be watched by those who with the right to watch it at all. Rebecca Boone reports the result for the Associated Press.

Most interesting detail: “They used a blood pressure cuff to enlarge the veins in his elbows, starting with the right, then the left. They cleaned his arms repeatedly with alcohol wipes to prevent infection — in case the execution was called off at the last minute.”