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Jewish World Review April 16, 2001 / 23 Nissan, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

McVeigh's victims weren't permitted any last words -- ALREADY, the world is starting to get it backwards.

The families of the men, women and children who were killed by Timothy McVeigh are being asked to explain why they want to witness his execution next month. As if they should have to justify anything to anyone.

Their children, husbands and wives were slaughtered by McVeigh on April 19, 1995, when he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh has admitted he did it, and has expressed no sorrow for his victims. He has referred to the 19 children he killed as "collateral damage."

Now McVeigh will die. On May 16, he is scheduled to be executed at a prison in Terre Haute, Ind. The method of execution will be lethal injection, which is a considerably more humane way to die than the way he selected for his victims.

The attorney general of the United States, John D. Ashcroft, his emotions stirred after meeting with families of the people McVeigh chose to kill, has approved plans that will allow those family members and survivors who want to see McVeigh's execution to, in fact, see it. Ten family witnesses, along with 10 news reporters, will observe the execution at the Indiana prison; hundreds of other family members will be given the opportunity to witness McVeigh's death by means of a closely protected closed-circuit television broadcast. The TV broadcast will not be disseminated to the public; only the family members and survivors who want to bear witness will have access to it.

And now -- probably predictably -- it is the family members who are being asked why they want to see McVeigh at his moment of death. The questions will increase in frequency in the coming weeks.

The families shouldn't have to answer that question. Any personal reasons they have should be more than sufficient.

Maybe they just want to know, for themselves, that the man who chose to rip their souls out really is dead. Maybe they believe they owe it to their late husbands, wives, sons and daughters. Maybe they will feel a measure of an emotion that, under these circumstances, is understandable, an emotion that has lately been considered impolite: vengeance.

Whatever their reasons, they should not be embarrassed for having those reasons -- and they should not have to answer to anyone.

Atty. Gen. Ashcroft is being criticized for expressing his opinion that it would be best if reporters choose not to give McVeigh any more of a platform than he has already been given. In a recently published book, McVeigh said: "I understand what they felt in Oklahoma City. I have no sympathy for them."

Ashcroft told reporters: "I don't want [McVeigh] to be able to purchase access to the podium of America with the blood of 168 innocent victims. . . . Please do not help him inject more poison into our culture."

Ashcroft is not forbidding reporters from speaking with McVeigh; McVeigh is allowed 15 minutes of outside telephone calls a day (the reason for this is not clear), and if he chooses to use those 15 minutes a day to speak with reporters, he can do it. Ashcroft is merely expressing his thoughts -- which he has as much right to do as McVeigh has to express his own thoughts.

One area of concern is that McVeigh may taunt the families of his victims when he is given the opportunity to make a final statement in the moments before the execution is carried out.

Tom Kight, whose stepdaughter was killed by McVeigh, said that he and other family members of McVeigh's victims are aware of this, and accept it: "I don't think he can shock us with anything else. He took our loved ones, and there's nothing more he can do or say. He can't do any more damage."

So the burden is being put on the family members of McVeigh's victims. They will have to listen to whatever McVeigh has to say to them.

A logical question is: Why?

McVeigh already seems to feel he is in charge here. On the subject of the closed-circuit broadcast of the execution, he said: "If they do that, I'm going to throw it back in their face. I'm going to demand they televise it nationally."

Why should he be able to demand anything? Presumably, he will be given his choice of a last meal -- a choice he never gave his victims. He has been offered every opportunity to appeal his death sentence -- an opportunity he never gave his victims. He will die painlessly -- a courtesy he never gave his victims.

So why should the families have to listen to anything he might want to say? They didn't get to hear a few last words from their loved ones -- why should they have to hear any last words from McVeigh?

This isn't a speech -- and the families should be asked to put up with no more indignities. Out of consideration for the hurt and grieving families, McVeigh should be gagged before he is brought into their presence. Then the law should be quickly carried out.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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