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Jewish World Review April 18, 2001 / 25 Nissan, 5761

Mike Litwin

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Hacking McVeigh


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- SOME hacker - do you know where your children are? - breaks into the Tim McVeigh feed and, faster than you can say "latest encryption technology," the execution pictures are on the Internet.

Not that we could expect anyone to stop at just the Internet. Why not go after the network feeds, too? Imagine you're at home on May 16 watching, say, "The West Wing" when President Bartlett's face gives way to Tim McVeigh's.

McVeigh takes the needle and dies. Film at 10.

Modern technology is a wonder. Modern technology will allow more than 200 victims and relatives of victims - with the permission of Attorney General John Ashcroft - to watch on a closed-circuit feed in Oklahoma City as McVeigh breathes his last at an Indiana prison.

Modern technology doesn't begin and end, however, with an attorney general's directive.

This feed will be the ultimate challenge and temptation for hackers.

It might be a test for the rest of us, too.

For one thing, whatever the hackers do, I doubt the relatives and victims will get what they want. The overworked word we use these days is closure, a word that is almost necessarily inadequate. Lose a child, for example, and see how closure applies.

And then there is the greater danger for any family member or survivor who chooses to watch - that McVeigh will use the opportunity to taunt the families. You have to remember that his final words are his final words. There's no filter, no censor. It's a live death. And the last thing we can expect from McVeigh is a strapped-in-his-deathbed apology.

In fact, it would not surprise me if McVeigh, who regards himself as a patriot, makes an I-only-regret-that-I-have-but-one-life-to-lose-for-my-country speech just before he smilingly takes his final breath.

Closure? Or more rage?

But interest in McVeigh's fate extends well beyond the families. If there's one thing McVeigh has said that makes sense, it is that we are all victims. It was his argument that everyone should be entitled to watch the execution.

The hackers will try to make McVeigh's wish possible.

You don't have to wonder about motive. You can start with those who will try it just to show it can be done. Then, of course, there are those sick enough to try to make McVeigh a martyr. Video of a government execution could be packaged neatly with the destruction of Waco. How does $19.99 sound?

And, finally, there are some in the anti-capital-punishment crowd who want as many as possible to watch, believing that seeing a person executed could turn popular sentiment against capital punishment.

McVeigh's a hard case. Virtually no one sympathizes with him. You can't make the maybe-he-didn't-do-it argument, as in the case of the guy who spent 14 years on death row in Idaho and was just recently found innocent of the crime. There's no race factor here, and there's no story of the incompetent lawyer falling asleep on the table.

There's only McVeigh who committed a monstrous act and his date with the needle.

What would happen if the entire nation could watch?

The injection method of capital punishment probably doesn't make for the best TV. It can't match Old Sparky and the chance that the guy strapped to the chair could have his hair catch on fire. It certainly can't match a hanging or a firing squad.

With the injection, there's almost nothing to see. But that might even be more chilling, the sense of how easy it is for a life to slip away.

We gave up public executions some time ago. It used to be that you could bring the family and a picnic lunch. Was it solely a taste issue that ended the practice?

In modern times, we've switched over to the news-chopper freeway chase. When you watched the original, with O.J. Simpson in his white Ford Bronco, you couldn't turn away because you thought it might end with Simpson killing himself or the cops doing it for him. You may have felt dirty afterward, but you watched.

Many of us would watch McVeigh's execution, too, if we had the chance. It might be nearly impossible to resist.

Would we feel dirty?

Would we keep the clicker at hand, so we could go to "Survivor" during slow moments?

Would watching a killer die on TV - where it might be confused with all the other "deaths" on TV - actually change anyone's mind about capital punishment?

The scary thing is, we might find out.



Mike Litwin is a columnist for the Denver Rocky Mountain News. Comment by clicking here.

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