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by Gary Hardy

Timothy McVeigh, President Bush and the Ghouls




 
Commentary

Timothy McVeigh was silent as he went to his death. In the final act of a macabre drama, Timothy McVeigh was executed this week by the United States government on which he declared war in 1995 by bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City.

As the lethal injections took effect, his eyes stayed wide open staring at the ceiling where a camera conveyed his final moments to an audience of 232 of his victims and their families watching in Oklahoma City.

It took just four minutes from the moment the first drug was administered until he was declared dead.

Warden Harley Lappin later announced to the nation as he stood beside the corpse: "Inmate Timothy James McVeigh died at 7:14am Central Daylight Time (1.14pm BST). This concludes the execution.

Not long afterwards, a black hearse whisked McVeigh's body away to a coroner's office to establish that he died by lethal injection.

From there, the body was taken to be cremated. The ashes will be disposed of in a secret location.

According to witnesses, his expression remained eerily blank throughout, his tightened lips relaxing only as the drugs took effect.

To many people's surprise, McVeigh chose not to say anything, as he lay strapped to the execution table. After his death, however, prison authorities released his final statement.

Looking gaunt and with his hair cut very short, McVeigh raised his head as the curtain was drawn back from the witness rooms surrounding the execution chamber.

With his body strapped down, he looked around, acknowledging his lawyers, the media witnesses, and squinted through the tinted window to try to see the 10 witnesses drawn from among his victims.

Once the warden announced "we are ready", the drugs began to pump through a tube inserted into McVeigh's right leg.

Sodium thiopental made him unconscious. Pancuronium bromide collapsed his lungs. Potassium chloride stopped his heart.

President Bush, who had to face anti-death penalty protesters on his visit to Europe, said: "Today every living person who was hurt by the evil done in Oklahoma City can rest in the knowledge that there has been a reckoning."

Among McVeigh's victims and their families, there were mixed emotions. Many of those who watched him die said that they felt elated by his death. Others were more unsettled.

Sue Ashford, 58, who survived the bombing, watched from the witness room. I'm ticked off," she said. "He didn't suffer at all. They should have done the same to him he did to other people."

McVeigh was transferred to the execution unit, a separate building on the grounds of the penitentiary, early on Sunday morning.

He took a moment to look at the moon, said prison officials, not having seen it once during his six years of confinement. He also took a deep final breath of fresh air.

At his request, Ecclesiastes, chapter three, verses 1-8, were read at the Catholic mass in Terre Haute on Sunday evening: "To everything there is a reason… a time to kill and a time to heal… a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace."

McVeigh was raised a Catholic but later claimed to be an agnostic.

His family released a statement which said: "We want Tim to know we love him very much and many people have told us they will be praying for him in their churches."

President Bush hailed the execution of Timothy McVeigh as an act of redemption and justice.

Mr Bush, who presided over the execution of 152 people as governor of Texas, made a public statement 90 minutes after McVeigh died.

"This morning, the United States of America carried out the severest sentence for the gravest crimes," Mr Bush said of the first federal execution for 38 years.

"The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have been given not vengeance but justice. And one young man met the fate he chose for himself six years ago.

"Today, every living person who was hurt by the evil done in Oklahoma City can rest in the knowledge that there has been a reckoning.

"Life and history bring tragedies and often they cannot be explained," he said in the White House. "But they can be redeemed. They are redeemed by dispensing justice, through eternal justice is not ours to deliver.

"May God, in his mercy, grant peace to all: to the lives that go on and to the life that ended today."

In his attitude to the death penalty, Mr Bush is in step with the majority in America. The most recent opinion polls show 67 per cent favour the death penalty for murder with 25 per cent against. But when people are asked to choose between capital punishment and a prison sentence of life "meaning life", 48 per cent are in favour and 43 per cent against.

McVeigh's punishment was condemned as barbaric by politicians and pressure groups across the European Union.

Lord Russell-Johnston, the president of the Council of Europe, said: "Timothy McVeigh was a cold-blooded murderer. He will not be missed. But the way he died was sad, pathetic and wrong.

"It demonstrated the futility of capital punishment to act as a deterrent, giving him the notoriety he sought in committing this horrendous crime."

In Rome, where a small group demonstrated outside the American embassy, a Roman Catholic peace group described the lethal injection as a "useless barbarity".

"The execution of Timothy McVeigh has made the death penalty fashionable once again and jeopardises more than ever the minimum threshold for civilization in our democracies," the Sant' Egidio Community said.

"The death of a man, whoever he is and whatever he has done, is and remains a barbarity." The Pope had appealed to President Bush to spare McVeigh.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK is opposed to the death penalty in all cases." The human rights group Amnesty added: "By executing the first federal death row prisoner in nearly four decades, the US has allowed vengeance to triumph over justice and distanced itself yet further from the aspirations of the international community.

The German government released a statement saying it "remains opposed to the death penalty, including as far as the execution of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh is concerned".

But it added: "This does not imply any kind of sympathy with the perpetrators of this awful crime."

The United States and Japan are the only major industrialised nations that still regularly put convicted criminals to death.

The United States was relatively free of terrorism until 19th April 1995. Then, 168 people were killed and hundreds wounded in a truck bombing outside the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the worst act of terrorism on American soil.

The linking by McVeigh of Waco and Oklahoma City, and his execution on Monday, have ensured that his name will not die. The federal authorities were guilty of the worst abuse of government power on American soil since the massacre of 200 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in 1890; the FBI withheld crucial documents from congressional investigators; McVeigh, and possibly others, took their revenge in Oklahoma City; the federal authorities had him put to death; he met his end calmly, quoting, in a written signed statement, words from the poem Invictus by the 19th century British poet William Ernest Henley: "I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul." The mixture of allegation and facts lays the foundation for a powerful myth of individual defiance of federal tyranny. President Bush's talk of redemption is premature.

McVeigh ghouls caught a virus. Internet users who tried to view video footage of the execution of Timothy McVeigh on Monday have unwittingly downloaded a malicious computer program on to their machines, it emerged on Wednesday.

Within hours of McVeigh's lethal injection, Internet chat rooms were offering a link to a website that claimed to have a pirated video of his death. The website claimed it had hacked into the video of the execution that was relayed from his Indiana prison to an American government office in Oklahoma where survivors and relatives of victims of the bomb attack were watching.

Instead of the video, the weblink downloaded a malicious program called SubSeven on to their computers.

Presidential gaffes come just as easy in Spanish. During this week's visit to Spain by President Bush he has been quick to show off his much-touted Spanish language abilities, but with mixed results.

He launched into shaky Spanish in an interview with Spain's state-funded television service broadcast hours before his arrival.

His pithy statement in Castilian expressing pleasure at visiting Spain was calculated to charm Spaniards.

In the event it was good enough for the report to conclude that Mr Bush was the first Spanish-speaking president of the United States.

However, the change of language did not spare Mr Bush from making the sort of gaffes that his opponents lampooned throughout his presidential campaign.

He mispronounced the names of the Prime Minister, José María Aznar, calling him "Anzar" but sounding more like ansar, the Spanish for "goose".

The newspaper El Mundo described his Spanish as "a little chronic", as the president-mangled grammar, misplaced accents and confused genders.

If connoisseurs of Castilian winced at a Tex-Mex accent that seemed more Taco Bell than Cervantes, the president made light of his linguistic shortcomings in the same way that he does when at home in America.

"I have to practise this very lovely language," he said. "If I don't practise, I am going to destroy this language."

Perhaps knowing that some of Mr Bush's aides are learning Spanish, King Juan Carlos entered into the spirit of the occasion when he welcomed the visitors at Zarzuela palace.

He greeted Condoleezza Rice, the US National Security Adviser, with the words: "Buenos dias, Arroz."

Extremity: The backslapping and gregarious king was clearly indulging in a jeu de mots. In Spanish arroz means rice.

Gary Hardy

garyhardy@liveibiza.com