Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oklahoma City by Andrew Gumbel & Roger Charles

Its always interesting to revisit these cases. For example, for want of $18,000 worth of rebar ( one-eighth of 1% of the total cost of construction of the Murrah Building in 1977) Tim McVeigh’s bomb would have done far less damage and the death toll may have been limited to just fifteen of twenty people. As early as 1988 The National Research Council suggested that the first thing such buildings under threat should do was to close any on-site day-care centers. Furthermore, all of the building’s security cameras except the one serving the GSA’s on-site manager’s office were disconnected as a cost-saving measure despite the warnings and applications of the head of security for the building.

In addition to huge arms stashes by the AFT, U.S. Customs were storing undocumented TOW missiles in the building, in contradiction to both safety and the law. Rescue operations were suspended twice without explanation while agents removed these dangerous items.

Larges bodies of evidence- including 24 eye-witnesses who testified that they saw McVeigh in Oklahoma City before the bombing in the company of one or more other people- 1,034 latent fingerprints taken from McVeigh’s car, the Dreamland Hotel where he stayed and the Ryder rental agency were never checked against the FBI’s computer databases- were systematically ignored during the investigation and prosecutions of McVeigh and Nichols. Greater cooperation between the FBI and AFT, less political interference from Washington, more vigorous pursuit of known extremists could have prevented the attack and broadened the scope of the investigation after. As it turned out the best “evidence’ the prosecutors presented to the jury was the testimony of the sufferings of the victims.

McVeigh ratted on Nichols and Nichols ratted on McVeigh though he did not ‘come clean’ with his whole story until 2007. Michael Fortier ratted on them both. The indictment itself, which came down fairly precipitously in August of 1995, set the start of the conspiracy at September 13, 1994. This day had nothing to do with the evidence. It was the day President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which first introduced the death penalty for using or conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. Prosecutors worried that if they put the start of the conspiracy any sooner, the capital charges might get thrown out.

McVeigh,in a forceful sort of way, had sex with Nichol’s wife on several occasions when her husband was absent. In February 1995, a couple of months before the bombing, McVeigh had sex with Richard Rogers who told the FBI that McVeigh’s tongue and throat action was “incredible”; “He was good at what he did”. A large amount of McVeigh’s activity in the two or so years leading up to the bombing was fueled by crystal meth (which reminded me of the story of Gary Gilmore in “The Executioner’s Song”.)

After sentencing McVeigh was moved to the Supermax prison in Colorado. He did his best to blend in with prison life, forming perhaps the most surprising friendship with Ted Kaczynski. They may have been from different places on the political spectrum, but they were both ideologues who believed in violence. Kaczynski was intrigued to learn about McVeigh’s Gulf War service. McVeigh commented: “Yes, sir. Ironic, isn’t it? In Desert Storm I got medals for killing people.”

Kaczynski thought that the Oklahoma City bombing had been “unnecessarily inhumane.” But he found McVeigh more intelligent than he imagined, and more open to other people and other cultures. “I expect that he is an adventurer by nature,” Kaczynski later wrote, “and America since the closing of the frontier has had little room for adventurers.”

In July 1999 McVeigh was handcuffed, chained and flown with nineteen other prisoners to the new federal death row facility in Terre Haute, Indiana. This was the real-life version of the popcorn Hollywood movie Con Air, with heavily armed federal marshals watching nervously over the likes of Anthony Battle, a mentally disturbed serial offender from Georgia, and David Paul Hammer, a brilliantly devious con man and murderer who inspired both Cyrus the Virus, the John Malkovich character in Con Air, and Thomas Harris’s man-eating evil genius, Hannibal Lecter.

The first time McVeigh spoke to Hammer, who was feared by almost all his fellow inmates, he bragged about the destruction in Oklahoma City, saying: “The official score is 168 to 1. I’m up.” To which an unimpressed Hammer replied: “Well, I guess I can’t kill you more than once.”

Gradually, McVeigh, Hammer, and a third inmate, Jeffery Paul, began holding meetings they nicknamed “Klan rallies,” because they were the only whites on death row. They were not friends, exactly, but they looked to each other for companionship and protection. McVeigh was called “baby killer” by his fellow inmates, and teased for his dearth of sexual experience, but Hammer was his insurance policy against anything worse.

Hammer also helped McVeigh move up the date of his execution by waiving all final appeals on his own death sentence. Hammer did not want to die, although he vacillated about that for years; his principal goal was to set a legal precedent. McVeigh had told his biographer “ I will be glad to leave this fucked-up world.” If his last habeas corpus petition was turned down, as he was almost sure it would be, he wanted to close down the legal process. The problem was, he knew of no one on federal death row who had done this before. So Hammer put in his own request. It was accepted, and McVeigh had his precedent.

McVeigh was not hanged from the gallows in the town square, but his death by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, broadcast via closed-circuit television to the media and relatives of the victims, was the closest thing to a public execution in modern American history. McVeigh called it “Bloodstock.”

Inside the prison, and especially in the death row wing known as Dog Unit, the first federal execution in thirty-eight years was met with a sense of unshakeable gloom. McVeigh had a knack for making himself popular, and found a way of laughing and joking even about his own death. “Still breathin” he signed off his last letters. David Hammer remembered McVeigh forming his hand into a noose and making a yanking gesture whenever anyone asked how he was. “I will grieve for what Tim once was, and for who he is now, because no man ceases to be a human being, no matter his actions or how horrid those actions were,” Hammer wrote in his journal three days before the execution.

Many of the inmates had difficulty eating and sleeping. They were put in lockdown, and the prison authorities replaced the usual menu of cable television programs with comedy films. Hammer, a diabetic, gave himself an insulin overdose the night before McVeigh’s death. “I did so hoping to die,” he later wrote.

In his final appeal at Terry Nichols sentencing trial Michael Tigar did something utterly unexpected: he physically embraced his client and called him his brother, evoking the way Joseph, in the Old Testament, had revealed himself to his brother Benjamin when he stood in judgment over him. The point, Tigar explained, was not to negate the loss of all the brothers, mothers, fathers, and sisters in the bombing, but rather to understand something fundamental about Western Civilization. “ He reached out because even in that moment of judgment he could understand that this is a human process and that what we all share looks to the future and not to the past. My brother is in your hands.”

1 comment:

  1. Kaczynski thought that the Oklahoma City bombing had been “unnecessarily inhumane.” But he found McVeigh more intelligent than he imagined, and more open to other people and other cultures. “I expect that he is an adventurer by nature,” Kaczynski later wrote, “and America since the closing of the frontier has had little room for adventurers.”