America’s latest incarnation of evil, Timothy McVeigh, has had his execution stayed after yet another screw up by the FBI, following in the trail of Ruby Ridge and Waco. Also during that week, audiotapes of executions from Georgia State Prison were released. Both occurrences have worked to bring capital punishment back into the spotlight, with the majority of Americans demanding blood.
The lost evidence, which amounts to a little more than 3,000 pages, was discovered two weeks ago but news of its existence trickled through Washington, proving once again that people hate to fess up to their mistakes. News of the evidence reached the ears of the media, Attorney General Ashcroft and President Bush on the same day, and it was then that McVeigh’s execution was delayed. It sent many people into a frenzy, demanding that McVeigh be executed as scheduled.
During the same week that the McVeigh evidence was released, audiotapes from actual executions in Georgia were broadcast on the radio and on TV, filling the ears of Americans with the grisly reality of death. Some of the recordings presented executions that went as well as could be expected. Others were far more haunting. The execution tape of Ivon Ray Stanley, for example, had Georgia State Prison officials, speaking in their calm, southern-accented voices, as they spent 13 minutes electrocuting Stanley before the man would finally die. The tapes were played repeatedly and heavily nationwide.
Bloodlust, pure and simple – and America has an extreme case of it. Popular support for the death penalty has decreased some over the years, but the majority of Americans still back its use. It’s an understatement to say that the moral question – of whether or not it is right for a nation to take the life of another human as punishment for a crime – is a tricky one. There seems to be little reason why the death penalty is necessary other than its use as a therapy for the collective psyche of the country; it makes us feel better about ourselves by allowing us to get the final word in.
Any other practicality arguments for the use of executions don’t even come close to adequately justifying the taking of a human life. The death penalty’s symbolic use as a crime deterrent isn’t effective in the least. Murderers and terrorists don’t suddenly realize that they could get gassed, fried or injected and then miraculously go straight. You can also forget about using it to reduce the numbers of inmates in prisons. Many prisoners on death row probably will spend their last days in a jail cell due to appeals. Perhaps the only real use for a death penalty is to make certain that these criminals don’t get a second chance to wreak havoc on the world. There are problems with that argument as well because you run the risk of making the prisoner a martyr. Some nut-job wrote a requiem for McVeigh and got permission to play it for him, via radio, during his execution.
Even with the new evidence, it is unlikely that McVeigh’s fate will change. His execution will be rescheduled for a new date and America will get its blood. However, it’s debatable whether or not he should be executed. His death will not bring back the dead; it will not suddenly provide closure or miraculous emotional relief to those who are still suffering. All it will do is make certain that one more evil is eradicated from the face of the Earth.
Seeing as how there is so little certainty about death and execution, it seems strange and near disturbing that we keep using it as a means of punishment. With so many questions left unanswered about the moral and practical uses of execution, perhaps it is best to stop employing it until we can make a firm, solid stance that it is good, that it is right. Before that time is reached, it seems we should forfeit on the side of life.
Steven Ruszczycky is a sophomore English and biopsychology major and Nexus columnist.