By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — The days following the April 15 bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon were some of the darkest, saddest and emptiest days of my life. The event traumatized Massachusetts in a way Oklahomans might understand, having lived through the horrors of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Timothy McVeigh was eventually executed by the federal government for his role in orchestrating the 1995 terrorist attack. And as the brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev emerged as the prime suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, I began to wonder if, when caught, they too would get the death penalty.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during police pursuit four days after the Marathon. Multiple news outlets reported Thursday that the federal government will seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
If Dzhokhar is found guilty and executed, I’ll sleep no better.
Our Declaration of Independence states that “all men” are created equal, and that they are endowed with “unalienable rights.” “All men,” not just Americans, according to our nation’s founders, have rights that cannot be taken away.
First among those inalienable rights is the right to life. The state cannot execute someone — anyone, no matter the crime nor the nationality — and still claim to be true to the founding ideals of our nation.
One common argument for the death penalty is that killing someone who has killed provides justice for the victims left behind. But victims of a crime aren’t allowed to be jurors for that crime’s trial, nor can they preside over that crime’s trial as a judge.
Crimes aren’t committed against individuals; they’re committed against the state. Killing someone because of the pain he or she has caused another is vengeance, not justice.
And for those who can’t make that distinction, one need only look at the state of prisons in our country to realize that a life in prison is a far crueler, more vengeful punishment than a quick execution.
I didn’t know anyone hurt or killed at the Boston Marathon, so perhaps I have less of a claim to being a victim than others. But I still felt deep emotional pain because of the Tsarnaevs’ alleged attack, and my once-happy memories of watching the Boston Marathon as a boy are now forever tainted.
That at least makes me a victim in a spirit. And if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is found guilty and executed to give me a sense of justice, that makes me in some small way complicit in the death of another human being.
The thought of the Tsarnaevs killing in the name of their deranged beliefs sickens me. So does the thought that part of my tax dollars as a resident of Oklahoma pays for people’s executions — carried out, no less, in my new hometown of McAlester at Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
But I have yet to feel victimized by a crime that’s resulted in an execution at OSP. If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is found guilty and executed, he’d die in part because of me, and that feels even worse.
President Obama in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday demand the prison at Guantamo Bay be closed “because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.”
That just two days later he authorized U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to seek the death penalty is mind-boggling, not to mention extremely hypocritical.
Holder’s announcement is just the first step of many. Tsarnaev’s trial date hasn’t even been set yet, and no one knows what the exact outcome of his trial will be.
Tsarnaev faces 30 federal charges, 17 of which could, if he’s found guilty, result in a federal execution. Tsarnaev might be a terrorist, but he’s still a human being with the same right to life due everyone born on this earth.
If he dies, he’ll just be another tick in the Boston Marathon’s body count.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.