July 26 (UPI) -- A decision by the Trump administration to end a 16-year moratorium on federal-level executions has drawn criticism from advocacy groups and the international community.
The United States hasn't executed anyone at the federal level since 2003 and 21 states have banned the death penalty altogether. U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday asked prisons officials to schedule executions for five death row inmates convicted of killing children or the elderly prior to 2004. Their The executions are scheduled for December and January -- and there are dozens more death row, including Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof.
"Under no circumstances should the Justice Department be allowed to rush through executions," ACLU Capital Punishment Project director Cassandra Stubbs said. "The federal death penalty is defined by the same problems of racial bias, geographic disparities, prosecutorial misconduct and junk science that have led to the decline in support capital punishment nationwide."
Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center said the decision Thursday was no surprise.
"President Trump has been a staunch supporter of capital punishment and has proposed several extreme uses of it, including for selling drugs and for all murders involving state and local police officers," he said.
"it was not a surprise that he would seek to have executions carried out. I think the biggest surprise is that it took as long as it did."
Amnesty USA and the Legal Defense Fund are gearing up for lawsuits. Yale Law School professor Miriam Gohara has represented death penalty clients in the past.
"It seems to me there are a lot of other pressing national security issues that I would think the Department of Justice would be concerned about," she said. "I find it surprising they're using their resources to resurrect this issue at a time when people are really reexamining the death penalty all across the country."
Supporters say executions are a deterrent and represents a just response to capital crimes. President Donald Trump spoke in favor of the death penalty in the aftermath of the attack last year at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
"I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue," he said. "Anybody that does a thing like this to innocent people that are in temple or in church ... they should really suffer the ultimate price."