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Killing McVeigh would be revenge, not closure

By Dave Atwood

Most Americans would probably agree that Timothy McVeigh should be executed on may 16 as scheduled. The bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 - which resulted in 168 deaths - was the "crime of the century". It resulted in indescribable suffering for the victims and their families. If any crime ever cried out for the death penalty, it would be that of McVeigh.

Some people may argue that McVeigh should be executed to deter other such crimes in the future. However, there is no proof that the death penalty deters crime. In fact, numerous studies, including one recently published in The New York Times, have shown the opposite. If we wish to prevent crime, we must take a different approach. We must seek out the root causes of crime and work to correct those problems.

Some may argue that the victim's families deserve his execution in order to achieve "closure" and move on. McVeigh's execution will not achieve that goal despite what some politicians and victim's groups may say. Families of victims need healing and reconciliation. Bud Welch's daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Bud is a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, or MVFR, a national organisation that promotes reconciliation as a means of bringing closure to violent crimes. Bud has spoken publicly about the pain of losing his daughter and his initial desire for McVeigh's death. But he recognized that his anger and desire for revenge were destroying him physically, emotionally and spiritually. He and other members of MVFR have choosen a path with truly brings healing and closure.

One concern that we should have is that McVeigh's execution could make him into some kinds of a martyr for right-wing extremists in this nation. It might be better to let McVeigh quietly reside in a secure federal prison for the rest of his life.

There are still other reasons why the United States should not execute McVeigh. One is that the death penalty is bad for us as a nation. Up to this time most executions have been carried out by individual states. McVeigh's execution will be the first federal since 1963. It is a slippery downward slope that should be avoided. In 199, the Catholic Bishops of the United States issued a statement in which they said "We see the death penalty as perpetuating a cycle of violence and promoting a sense of vengeance in our culture ... we cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing ... we oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes, but for what it does to all of us as a society." We have had approximately 700 executions since the death penalty was resumed in the 1970s. We are not better off as a nation for doing so. In fact, we are worse off. Killing by the state has become a part of our culture.

As bad as his crime was, the United States will not be a better nation if McVeigh is executed. He can be securely held in a federal prison where he will never kill again. While he is there we can learn a lot about how he went wrong. What role did his upbringing have, if any? What role did his service in the Persian Gulf War have? What influence did right-wing extremists have on his life? What role did the Waco disaster have? In no way would we be trying to excuse what McVeigh did, but just to understand and prevent similar incidents in the future.

Outrage over McVeigh's heinous crime will cause most Americans to accept his execution as a just consequence. However, a more careful analysis should prombt us to question whether this is the best answer to our pain.