McVeigh Makes the Case for Capital Punishment

By Feder, Don | Insight on the News, May 21, 2001 | Go to article overview

McVeigh Makes the Case for Capital Punishment


Feder, Don, Insight on the News


The imminent execution of Timothy McVeigh puts the capital-punishment debate into sharp focus.

That's why opponents of the death penalty are uneasy talking about the Oklahoma City bomber. For the vast majority of us -- those who aren't ideologically rigid -- it's hard to feel anything but loathing for the terrorist who has admitted to killing 168 people in cold blood.

McVeigh's total lack of remorse is chilling. His characterization of the 19 children he murdered ("collateral damage") is reminiscent of the way the Nazis dehumanized their victims. McVeigh challenges the dogma of death-penalty opponents as no other execution since those of the Nuremberg defendants. They respond by changing the subject.

On Fox News, I recently fenced with Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch. As soon as the mass murderer's name was mentioned, Fellner launched into an oration on the likelihood that we are executing the innocent -- because some death-row inmates have been released, supposedly proving their saintliness. Fellner's pleading is a ploy, though slightly less inept than that of the show's host, who stated: If we execute McVeigh, we'll make him a martyr. Right -- like there are millions of militia types out there who'll be lighting candles before McVeigh shrines.

When pressed, death-penalty opponents usually admit they oppose capital punishment on principle -- as Fellner did reluctantly. But since there's so little public support for that position, they immediately switch to another approach with more appeal. Either 55 or 86 death-row inmates (depending on to whom you talk) have been released, abolitionists argue. They neglect to mention that most were freed on legal technicalities or granted executive clemency.

Since 1977, the first execution after the Supreme Court again allowed the death sentence, slightly more than 700 people have been executed in this country. Among the experts, there is no consensus that any of those executed were innocent. On average, it takes more than 10 years to execute a convicted murderer -- more than enough time to weigh every shred of evidence, examine DNA, appeal on perceived errors at trial and so on. …

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