Politicians use McVeigh to win support for executions
TENS OF thousands of people are expected to descend on Terre Haute, Ind., May 16 for a sick spectacle--the U.S. government's execution of Timothy McVeigh for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The media are already planning round-the-clock coverage. And in April, Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed to allow the execution to be shown on closed-circuit television in Oklahoma City--to an audience of hundreds of survivors and victims' family members.
This circus atmosphere is disgusting enough. But there's more at stake.
Politicians like Ashcroft want to use McVeigh's execution to rehabilitate the death penalty--after all the mounting evidence of its cruel injustices.
Yet as ALAN MAASS reports, the politicians will have a harder time than they expect--because the real face of the death penalty has been steadily exposed.
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DONALD PARADIS walked free in April after more than two decades behind bars in Idaho prisons, most of the time spent on death row.
Paradis was the victim of an ambitious prosecutor and a crackpot "expert" witness who was once fired from his job as a medical examiner after he was accused of selling human tissue for profit and collecting blood from autopsies to fertilize his garden.
Paradis couldn't afford a lawyer. So he got stuck with a court-appointed attorney who had never tried a felony case or even appeared before a jury. Incredibly, the lawyer was a working cop for the Coeur D'Alene Police Department--while he defended a man on trial for murder in Coeur D'Alene.
And it still took two decades to stop the state of Idaho from killing Donald Paradis.
But when Paradis walked free in April, the mainstream media barely noticed. They were too busy hyping John Ashcroft's decision to televise the McVeigh execution.
Yet Donald Paradis' case is so much more typical of what takes place in America's broken death penalty system. In fact, though the McVeigh execution has grabbed the headlines, the real face of the death penalty has been steadily exposed, thanks to mounting pressure from opponents and a string of recent court decisions.
Days after Paradis was freed, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the execution of a Virginia man whose original trial lawyer had represented the murder victim a few days before he was killed.
Such cases highlight the fact that, as Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights puts it, death row prisoners get the death penalty "not for the worst crime but for the worst lawyer."
But don't take Bright's word. Ask U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty," Ginsburg said in April. "I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial."
The decision to hear the Virginia case was the Supreme Court's second major death penalty decision in less than a month. In March, the justices decided to take up a case in which they will decide whether executing the mentally handicapped is "cruel and unusual punishment."
Taken together, the Washington Post wrote, the two actions show "that public concern over the fairness of the death penalty may be permeating to the high court."
The same pressure is being felt by elected lawmakers. In Massachusetts, state legislators defeated the third attempt in five years to bring back the death penalty in March.
And in Maryland, a proposal for a moratorium on executions was only stopped by a last-second filibuster by a racist state senator. But within days, the Maryland Court of Appeals imposed a temporary halt on executions while it decides whether the state's death penalty law is constitutional.
The movement for a moratorium is even being felt in Texas--the heart of the death penalty system--where a proposal for a referendum on halting executions recently cleared a state Senate committee.
That legislation came after revelations that seven Black and Hispanic men landed on death row mostly because of testimony from a psychiatrist who claimed that they were more prone to violence because of their race.
The Texas scandal has spotlighted the racism of death row. And no death row is more racist than the federal government's--where an incredible 80 percent of prisoners awaiting execution are nonwhite.
Facts like these have led to a questioning of the death penalty. A recent Pennsylvania poll showed that three-quarters of people favor a halt on executions while the fairness of the system is studied.
The politicians want this sentiment to go away--and see the McVeigh execution as an opportunity to win back support.
That's why we have to oppose the execution of Timothy McVeigh. Letting the U.S. government kill him would legitimate an unjust system--that needs to be abolished.
Trained in mass killing by the U.S. government
TIMOTHY McVEIGH sparked fresh outrage when he referred to the death of 19 children in the Oklahoma City bombings as "collateral damage."
Media pundits demanded to know how McVeigh could use this phrase. But they only needed to go back to their own newspapers 10 years ago.
"Collateral damage" was the term coined by the Pentagon during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq to refer to civilian casualties of the U.S.'s barbaric air war. Casualties like the more than 300 people--many of them children--incinerated when the U.S. targeted the Amiriya bomb shelter in Baghdad.
It's little surprise that McVeigh picked up the phrase. He was a soldier in the war. McVeigh served on the crew of a Bradley fighting vehicle, which was used during the ground war to literally bury Iraqi soldiers alive.
"After the first one, it got easier" to kill Iraqis, he told his family.
McVeigh was trained to be a mass murderer--by the U.S. government.
"A staged political event"
BUD WELCH'S daughter Julie died in the Oklahoma City bombing at the age of 23. Since then, Welch has become a leading voice speaking out against the death penalty. He spoke to Socialist Worker about the McVeigh execution.
WHAT'S YOUR take on the hype being whipped up around Timothy McVeigh's execution?
AN EXECUTION is an event in this country. And there's a huge event staged for Terre Haute, Indiana, on May 16.
When we take Tim McVeigh out of that cage that morning to kill him, we'll end up with a staged political event. It does nothing more or less for our society than that.
As long as you understand that, then you can understand Ashcroft's decision to have it put on closed-circuit television. That was the popular political decision.
Among the family members, more than 80 percent of the people who were sent letters asking if they had any interest in viewing the execution didn't even respond. But it seems that this small minority that does want to watch the execution is getting all the press.
McVEIGH ISN'T like most of the people who end up on death row, is he?
WITH THE exception of McVeigh and maybe one or two others, we only kill the easy ones in this country. And by easy ones, I mean the poor ones.
Had O.J. Simpson been found guilty, he wasn't going on death row at San Quentin. They didn't even seek the death penalty. If it had been some poor bastard out of South Central LA, his ass would be on the row at San Quentin right now.
DO YOU think we're further along today in the struggle to abolish the death penalty?
IN THIS country, we like to think of ourselves as leaders in human rights and justice. We like to run the flag up the highest pole we can and tell what a great nation we are. But we're not a leader at all. We're a follower.
We'll join the rest of the free world in a few years, and we'll abolish the death penalty. It took us until the 1960s to abolish segregation, and actually, we're still working on that issue.
Our children 50 years from now will be asking the old folks if we really used to take people from a cage to kill them.
Just as my daughter used to ask me when she was in elementary school, "Dad, did there really used to be two water fountains in the back of the Sears' store in Shawnee, Oklahoma?" And I would say, "Yes, Julie, there was." And the sign hanging over them said one of the water fountains was for whites and the other one was for colored.
She couldn't imagine that our society once did that.
The death penalty is another ill, and we'll eventually abolish it. And we'll look back on it, and say, "My God, we've come a long way."