• Tim McVeigh Deserves the Worst Punishment

    • Posted on Apr 29, 2001


    If anyone deserves the worse imaginable punishment for a crime, it's Tim McVeigh. 

    Utterly blinded by his own twisted beliefs, in 1995 McVeigh planned and carried out the largest mass murder in U.S. history.  By his own admission, he built a huge fertilizer bomb, drove it to the federal office building in Oklahoma City, and set it off when the building was fully occupied, killing 168 people. 

    Like most terrorist bombings, it killed mostly innocent, defenseless workers going about their daily business.  Not only did federal office workers die, but also nineteen children in the building's day care center were killed.

    McVeigh, using military jargon, called the deaths of those children "collateral damage," thus attempting to disguise the horror of his actions.  He has expressed no remorse, insisting that the federal government deserved what it got for its handling of the Waco shoot-out, among other FBI nightmares. 

    So, as I say, McVeigh deserves the worst punishment for his horrendous crime.

    And what might that be?  The older I get, the more convinced I become that death isn't the most awful punishment for crimes.  At worst, death simply brings blankness, the big sleep, the cessation of sensation.  At most there might be some kind of afterlife, but it can't involve anything like pain, since physical pain arises from nerves, and spirits don't have nerves.  When the body's gone, anything resembling physical pain has to be gone too.

    Whatever happens after death, good or bad, amounts to speculation driven by hopes, fears, and fantasies.

     Here's all we know for sure: Death ends life.  Now, suppose instead of ending life, we lock it up until nature takes its inevitable course.  That's usually decades with no freedom, no amenities to speak of, nothing but endless days with nothing to do but stay alive.

    To any thoughtful person, that's a fate worse than death.  Timothy McVeigh does seem like a thoughtful person, bizarre though his thoughts may be.  Predictably enough, he has indicated that he wants to die. 

    Executing him, as we're determined to do, gives him exactly what he wants.

    If we really want to punish him, we should keep him alive, let him ponder what he's done, let him live out his days in prison. That's a horror beyond imagining.

    So why are we determined to give him death, the lesser punishment?  The same old arguments come up, all of which have been proven wrong or ineffective. His death won't deter others.  In fact, there's some evidence that his execution will make him a martyr, a hero for those who agree with his view of the FBI.

    His death won't really bring closure for the victims' family and friends. Peggy Broxterman lost her son in the bombing, and will be present to watch the execution, yet insisted last week that "You close on a house.  You don't close on a death." 

    McVeigh's death may bring a sense of satisfaction that he got what he gave, which seems like justice.  But if murder is wrong, it remains wrong whether it's committed by the state or by a murderer.  A more accurate phrase for capital punishment, in fact, is state murder. 

    Bud Welch, who lost his 23-year-old daughter Julie Marie, in the bombing, admits that for weeks after the bombing he was consumed by rage and vengeance.  Quoted in the New York Times, Welch says he went through "a period of temporary insanity." 

    Welch now opposes state murder for McVeigh, saying that killing McVeigh won't bring Julie Marie back, and he no longer seeks vengeance.  Instead, he empathizes with Bill McVeigh, Tim McVeigh's father, and has been calling him regularly to offer consolation.  "He's going to lose his son," says Welch. 

    Without a need for vengeance, and with the knowledge that closure amounts to a myth, as does deterrence, reasonable people are left with no real alternative but to oppose McVeigh’s execution.

    If McVeigh wants death, I say give him life. 


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