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Jewish World Review May 14, 2001 / 21 Iyar, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Give killer the last word -- BASED on U.S. Census data, an estimated 6,400 Americans will die on Wednesday. Timothy McVeigh, now being held on the new federal Death Row in Terre Haute, will not be one of them.

Attorney General John Ashcroft asked for a delay in the Oklahoma bomber's execution to determine whether the FBI's failure to give McVeigh's lawyers more than 3,000 documents cost him a fair trial.

Smart move. To kill McVeigh after denying him access to the very evidence used to nail him would be to validate his motive in the mass murder of April 1995: exacting revenge for what he saw as the overzealous, police-state tactics of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms.

Ashcroft's decision is smarter than his earlier one - denying media access to McVeigh. That decision, which presumably still stands, strikes me not merely as overzealous law enforcement, but as a gratuitous attempt at thought control. McVeigh is thoroughly bound. Does he have to be gagged as well?

To that, Ashcroft offered a hearty "Yes!"

"He's caused enough senseless damage already,'' Ashcroft said. " I would ask that the news media not become Timothy McVeigh's co-conspirator in his assault on America's public safety and upon America itself."

I have a problem with Ashcroft's smug use of the word "senseless." This is a political crime being punished here. McVeigh was not driven by a motive so deranged as John Hinckley's in shooting President Ronald Reagan. He succeeded in an attack on a federal government he had come to detest.

Is this free country of ours serving its own best interests and values in preventing McVeigh from expressing his motive publicly? Even if the desire for such a gagging reigns as the majority opinion, does the grave unpopularity of this ex-soldier's act justify the decision to attempt to silence him?

Unlike Ashcroft, I think it is the country that suffers when anyone, especially a guy like McVeigh, is kept in any way from speaking his mind.

Like it or not, agree with it or not, his motive was political.

That puts him in the same category as an assassin. Whether he is executed in 30 days or 30 years, I want him to have the right to declare his motive loudly, clearly, unmistakably not so much for him as for us.

Lee Harvey Oswald loved Fidel Castro and hated John F. Kennedy for trying to topple him. Sirhan Sirhan hated Bobby Kennedy's all-out support for Israel. James Earl Ray hated Martin Luther King's historic crusade for civil rights.

How much better it would be for us, the legatees of their crimes, had this trio been grilled by the media. How much preferable it would be to have their recorded words available for scrutiny instead of having to suffer the endless conspiracy theories hawked by the likes of Oliver Stone.

I want these public killers talking till they're blue in the face.

Timothy McVeigh exploded that building because he wanted a "body count" to show his anger at the actions of the federal agents at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

Let's hear him explain on camera. Millions of people remain troubled by such episodes as Ruby Ridge and Waco, in which the federal government used ends-justify-the-means tactics.

The critical point here is that the jury that sentenced McVeigh to death agreed that the defendant acted out of outrage over Ruby Ridge and Waco and believed that federal law enforcement officials were using military tactics to turn the U.S. into a police state.

His was a political crime for which he faces a capital punishment.

Whatever happens to McVeigh, there's no justification for levying the added political punishment of denying him a final and full public explanation of his political deed - no matter how heinous the crime, no matter how self-serving his words.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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