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Jewish World Review June 7, 2001 / 17 Sivan, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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McVeigh's world: Falsity forever -- All of us could yet enjoy the company of Timothy McVeigh indefinitely, thanks to still another of the FBI's screw-ups. And a world with Timothy McVeigh in it will never lack a living, breathing, much-quoted mass killer and mass bore.

Even now television anchormen and their producers-who-never-sleep are no doubt plying the nation's bloodiest assassin with compliments in hopes of arranging a last, ratings-boosting interview. Oh joy. Imagine his life -- and those cloying interviews -- being extended appeal after appeal, trial after trial, headline after headline. Talk about a life sentence.

Thank you, Federal Bureau of Incompetence. All its good work in apprehending Timothy McVeigh now has been obscured by the FBI's seeming inability to keep up with paperwork.

Justice must now be done all over again. Or at least one hopes it will be justice, and not just justice delayed.

Once again Timothy McVeigh is at center stage, which he clearly enjoys. Now he doesn't want to be executed after all. Instead, his lawyers solemnly explain, Mr. McVeigh has decided to stick around in order "to help bring integrity to the criminal justice system.'' He wants to live, we are assured, only as a matter of principle. (He needn't bother on my account.)

He who inflicted death on the innocent now asks the state not to inflict death on the guiltiest.

He has already admitted, even boasted, of his deed. But he took care not to do so in a venue where it might be held against him in court.

He painted himself as heroic, ready to die for his misbegotten cause, whatever it was. But now he's had a change of, and we use the term advisedly, mind. Because duty calls. He's ready to live in order to reform the criminal justice system. If his crime were not so serious, he would amuse.

Like so many enemies of the law, Timothy McVeigh does not hesitate to use it for cover. He uses its language to defend his lawlessness. He uses his rights under the law to rationalize the murder of children. He presents himself as a political martyr, but, when the chance presents itself, declines martyrdom. Now, it turns out, he wants to keep breathing the air he denied others.

Timothy McVeigh seeks to justify what he has done, but declines to admit it in a court of law. He is still living a lie -- a life of hints and evasions, of cryptic statements that require pointless elaborations and reservations. But only the sheer number of those he killed and injured distinguishes him. Like any killer, he tends to think of himself as profound when he is only brutal. And a coward. A coward who ran from his crime, and now runs from his punishment.

Naturally he and his distinguished counsel will now proceed to lecture the rest of us. "For many years,'' his attorney explains, "McVeigh has been concerned about the over-reaching of federal law enforcement authorities.'' Which of course is why he blew up all those people in Oklahoma City, ardent crusader for civil liberties that he is.

Now, at the rate Timothy McVeigh's case is moving, the surviving parents, children, brothers and sisters and friends of those 168 victims might die naturally before their killer is dispatched. In this case, justice delayed is justice cruelly denied.

And yet there may be something good, almost providential, about this macabre miscarriage of justice. Now the country has been given a preview of what it can expect if Timothy McVeigh is somehow spared the death penalty. Think about it, if you can bear it:

Every year on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh would be sought out, lionized and quoted. He could become a cult figure like the Unabomber. He could change his mind again and again, reaping headlines and news segments every time. He could grow old at public expense, lecturing from his cell "about the over-reaching of federal law enforcement authorities.'' He could go on year after year, statement after statement, mocking every one of those empty chairs at the Oklahoma City memorial.

This mass killer could remain the living centerpiece of all the endless debates over the pros and cons of capital punishment. He would love it. There would be games galore to play -- with the courts, with the press, with the American people and with any remaining hope of, or respect for, justice in his case.

This is what those who would spare Timothy McVeigh would inflict on the rest of us, indefinitely. This is what awaits all of us if he beats the rap. Talk about cruel and inhuman punishment -- of the innocent.

By all means, respect the defendant's rights. But also respect the victim's. In this case the victim was the people of the United States of America. Is there to be no finality in this case, no closure of this wound? No justice? The syringe, please.

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