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Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 20012 /25 Teves 5762

Dave Shiflett

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Send us huddling predators

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- THOSE of us with pronounced powers of empathy have been deeply touched by New York Press writer John Strausbaugh, who recently instructed the Grief Industry to shove it. His complaint, which resonates deeply, is that the cry-on-cue crowd should can their street-corner weeping over the 9/11 attacks. Quite so. These wet-cheeked spotlight-chasers are yet another type of moral streaker, boldly standing against mass murder. They desire our praise, but a flogging would suit them better.

Our empathy does not end there. We are also touched by the fact that savvy New Yorkers recognize that their courts are not up to the job of bringing justice to the people who committed mass murder in Manhattan. This is a bitter truth, but an undeniable one. If justice is to be done, suspects must be sent south — to Virginia, where we still know something about settling scores in a reasonable and, when necessary, fatal way.

And so, the other day, Zacarias Moussaoui faced arraignment in a northern Virginia courtroom for his alleged role in the September slaughters (which included, to be sure, the Pentagon attack). Moussaoui was asked to enter a plea and instead praised Allah. Because the Old Dominion is still wedded to notions of fair play, a "not guilty" plea was entered on his behalf. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports that Richard C. Reid, who apparently hoped to bring down an airliner with a shoe bomb — and who, according to the Washington Post, had phone conversations with Moussaoui in late 2000 — may end up in the same court. Some of us are hoping that John Walker, formerly of Marin County, will also make an appearance, for the hat trick.

Why Virginia? Because, as several analysts have pointed out, the guilty are much less likely to slip the noose than they would be in New York or Boston (where Reid is in custody). Short of a military tribunal — which should be handling these cases — Virginia's the next best thing. Our ''rocket docket'' expedites trials, after which our famed Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals takes over. The motto of that court is, "Abandon your Twinkies, all who enter here." Our justices brook little legal babbling. A Columbia University study shows that last year, the Fourth Circuit overturned 15 percent of the death sentences it reviewed — as versus 40 percent nationwide.

And death is the crux of the matter. Virginia juries will sentence deserving criminals to death, and our executioners will do their job with understated nobility.

To be sure, Virginia doesn't kill nearly as many criminals as some of our competitors do. The Washington Post refers editorially to "Virginia's hyperactive death chamber" even though we only executed a couple of criminals last year, whereas Texas killed several times that number. Old Sparky, as our famed electric chair is known, does not get the traffic it deserves. Prosecutor requests for the ultimate sanction are usually declined.

But the fact is, Virginians will cut you but so much slack before they hang you, and if Moussaoui is guilty, he's got as much chance of surviving in Virginia as a poinsettia has surviving on the plains of Mars. We understand that killing him can hardly atone for the enormity of this crime, which is why one visionary has suggested we clone him 3,000 times and kill all his descendants. That's not going to happen, however. We don't believe in cloning down here.

But we do know that shipping a mass murderer off to prison is not justice, despite what the Post argued on its editorial page the other day: "Pressure in those cases for the death penalty may be even stronger than in routine criminal cases. It is, therefore, all the more critical to remember why capital punishment must be abolished. The death penalty doesn't deter crime — much less terrorism."

To state that the death penalty doesn't deter crime is false on its face. The condemned will never commit another crime. Besides that, we don't know what effect executions have on impressionable terrorists. We do know that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are quite vocal in their demands to fight to the death — yet showed themselves entirely committed to avoiding the same. More to the point, the punishment must fit the crime as closely as possible, and execution is as close as we can get.

Virginians have always been happy to help out New Yorkers, even to the point of opening our landfills to New York's trash — which then-mayor Rudy Giuliani advised us was a glorious thing to do because New Yorkers, in his words, are "the best people." Rudy's parochialism will no doubt melt away when he decides to run for national office. Likewise, we dismiss Jimmy Breslin's empty boast:

We know how we acted in New York and doubt if it could happen anyplace else. A woman from the University of Richmond, a psychologist of the South, said, "If this was a NASCAR crowd, there would be panic."

Jimmy, my boy, your psychologist is nuts. As any fool knows, NASCAR fans pay $80 a head in the hope of seeing big crashes. These fans also recognize that the first duty of the civilized state is to protect its citizens from harm and maintain the integrity of the justice system. Mass murderers should be executed (as should petty ones). Indeed, should the executions be held at a NASCAR track, fans would pay $100 a ticket in a New York minute. Send us your huddling predators, yearning to be free. We know just what to do with them ...



JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from central Va. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Dave Shiflett