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A society that breeds violence and horror

By Mike Stark | November 15, 2002 | Page 7

WHEN A reporter asked George W. Bush how he felt about the sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area, he responded, "This isn't the America that I know."

Really? Bush's words came only months after four soldiers returning from the U.S. war on Afghanistan shot and killed their wives in a string of murders at Fort Bragg, N.C. And they come as Bush is preparing to unleash a new bloody war against the people of Iraq--which will add to a death toll of more than 1 million Iraqis killed by U.S. bombs and sanctions.

In reality, the sniper case shows a lot about Bush's America. From the trampling of civil liberties, to the aggressive use of the death penalty, to the ruthless Pentagon war machine, this society is full of violence and horror.

Maybe the best illustration is the obscene maneuvering by prosecutors and politicians to try to ensure that the two suspects in the sniper case will be put to death. Attorney General John Ashcroft held a press conference last week to announce his decision to transfer custody of sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo to Virginia authorities. Virginia, Ashcroft said, had the "best law, the best facts and best range of available penalties."

What he really meant was that Virginia is second only to Texas in its use of the death penalty. And Virginia is one of 17 states whose death penalty laws allow for the execution of juvenile offenders. "It seems to be that the attorney general decided to allow the rate of execution to determine where justice will be sought in this case," defense attorney James Wyda said. "The government's clumsy, macabre forum shuffle for the cheapest and easiest way to obtain the death penalty against my client diminishes the system of justice."

But the decision to transfer custody to Virginia was about more than sending the two to a pro-death penalty state. When the federal charges were dropped, Muhammad and Malvo were denied access to their federal attorneys--and were once again subjected to hours of grueling interrogation. According to press reports, the 17 year-old Malvo "confessed" to his involvement in the killings after seven more hours of questioning. The frenzy to execute Malvo is made even more alarming by accounts suggesting that he was dominated by the older Muhammad.

Then there's the way that the sniper case highlights the racist double standards of police and prosecutors. After the September 21 shooting of a Black female liquor store clerk in Montgomery, Ala., witnesses provided a detailed description of a suspect, and police found a fingerprint. But the Montgomery case was "not a priority," one FBI official said--until the sniper case came along.

Experts believe that, if he's guilty, Muhammad's actions would fit the pattern of a veteran suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. Muhammad was a member of the U.S. Army's 84th Engineer Company and helped to demolish an Iraqi ammunition dump containing rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin. The Pentagon later admitted that the process of blowing up the rockets may have vaporized dangerous amounts of sarin.

In a recent interview, Muhammad's ex-wife told the Washington Post, "When he got back, he was a very angry man. I didn't know this man. The one I knew stayed in Saudi." Dr. William E. Baumzweiger, a Los Angeles neurologist and psychiatrist who specializes in treating those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, recognizes this profile. "Once it came out that he had a military background, I said this must be a Gulf War veteran," he told MSNBC. "There is no doubt that a small but significant number of Gulf War veterans become homicidal because of Gulf War Syndrome."

Politicians like Bush may claim that the sniper case has nothing to do with "the America I know." But violence is a part of daily life in so many ways in this country--and the blame for this reality lies with the likes of George W. Bush.

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