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U.S. Embassy bomber given life sentence.
June 13, 2001 5:03 AM   Subscribe

U.S. Embassy bomber given life sentence. This is kind of the flipside of the McVeigh execution; Saudi man helps bomb the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi which kills 213 people. Jury cannot agree to execute him, as some believe he would become a martyr for the cause, and others believe this wouldn't "alleviate the suffering of the victims or family members". Why is this any different from the McVeigh situation?
posted by Big Fat Tycoon (31 comments total)

 
I hate to say it, but the reason may be because the embassy bombing wasn't in the U.S. To the jury, they might not have as much empathy for the "foreigners" that died, instead of the "innocent Americans".
Yes, I know that technically, the embassy is on U.S. soil, but look past that.
Then again, I would have figured the jury would have no problem executing a "foreigner" as well.
Who knew?
posted by Grum at 5:11 AM on June 13, 2001


well, maybe it's easier to condemn a "traitor" than an enemy soldier.
posted by jackstark at 5:27 AM on June 13, 2001


Not only that it wasn't in the U.S., but it wasn't done by an American. I think the jury would have a problem executing a foreigner. Like, you can discipline your own kids, but you can't discipline the neighbors' kids, because then the neighbors come after you all pissed off.

And I think Americans were hurt in the embassy bombing, but I could be remembering incorrectly.
posted by amyscoop at 5:31 AM on June 13, 2001


Ultimately, it isn't different.
posted by Ezrael at 5:37 AM on June 13, 2001


I think the jury would have a problem executing a foreigner.

Personally, I think it's kind of scary to think that one's own countrymen would feel more "entitled" to having you executed simply for shared nationality. I don't think that's the case here though, I definitely see it as a sign of indifference -- the fundamentally unequal application of "law" in America.

My view is, if this jury in America can make those comments regarding martyrdom and the ineffectiveness of execution, why could the McVeigh jury not do the same? The more I think about it, the more similar the motivations behind these bombings seem.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 5:48 AM on June 13, 2001


On NPR they said that some of the jurors voted against the death penalty because they thought that life in prison was a worse punishment. I find that disturbing. Does it mean our prisons are so bad they are worse than death? Or that people think death is no big deal?
posted by straight at 5:49 AM on June 13, 2001


[avoiding mention of position on capital punishment altogether]
What I find most interesting here are the mitigating factors that the jury listed, particularly:

"Nine felt that killing al-'Owhali would not alleviate the suffering of the victims or family members..."

Also that the cultural and religious factors involved (not reported in the yahoo link) were also mitigating factors. I'm not really sure what this means for future debates about this very contentious issue, but these tidbits surprised me and certainly gave me pause for thought. Two cents, as always.
posted by trox at 5:52 AM on June 13, 2001


Also these men were seen as part of a larger conspiracy, which also (along with the reasons mentioned above) contributed to the fact that at least one of them will not get the death penalty.
posted by FPN at 6:17 AM on June 13, 2001


It was a Manhattan jury, and the East Coast is more civilized than the bondooks.
posted by Mocata at 6:20 AM on June 13, 2001


The martyr thing was cited by 10 jurors, according to wire reports, with nine citing that this would not relieve the suffering of the jurors. The "prison is worse punishment" was cited by four jurors. But please note again that this was no one's sole reason. I love "insult the jury" time, by the way. So pleasant to slam your fellow citizens. But why were these jurors picked? In voir dire, don't both defense and plaintiff's attorneys (the U.S. govt, for crying out loud) look for people who will be able to understand the issues at hand? Also, you're talking about a case that's many times more complex than McVeigh's in its detail. These people were not stupid. You can pretty much take that on faith.

Nevertheless, the jurors get the "if one guy deserved the death penalty this was the one" treatment from people later. It would seem impossible to not have sympathy for the victims. That said, if one person deserves such treatment, and others do not, then should Congress not pass a law setting a total of deaths at which the death penalty is always required in federal cases? Or just go ahead and have Congress declare a perpetual state of emergency, and try such defendants before military tribunals? Meantime, you have to put your trust in juries. That's the way our system works.
posted by raysmj at 6:25 AM on June 13, 2001


Bondooks? Gadzooks!
posted by pracowity at 6:25 AM on June 13, 2001


Meant prosecutors, by the way. But nevermind.
posted by raysmj at 6:34 AM on June 13, 2001


I think that part of it is that McVeigh was more of a threat to Americans ideologically. I think that people are more used to the idea of "Arab Terrorists", who they imagine to be jealous of the US or whatever, than they are to the idea that a United States citizen could hate his own government so much that he would kill hundreds of people. Aggression from other nations is more acceptable conceptually than aggression from within. Also, this guy was obviously a henchman and not the mastermind as in the McVeigh case.
posted by donkeymon at 6:36 AM on June 13, 2001


donkeymon: what about the speculation that remains about "the third man" actually being the mastermind behind the Oklahoma City bombing? Admittedly, the only person I've seen recently who brought this up was McVeigh's one-time counsel (who McVeigh fired?), stating that McVeigh was too stupid to have been the leader of the bombing. Certainly the issues involved weren't as complex as the embassy bombing's, but I thought McVeigh was also part of "a larger conspiracy", as FPN puts it.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 6:42 AM on June 13, 2001


Americans have no problem executing foreigners. Right now there are almost 100 foreign nationals on death row, from 33 different countries, and since the 70's almost 30 have already been executed.

A twist to the which-is-worse argument: a poll last fall showed that 48% of people, given a choice, would rather be executed than serve a life sentence without parole. Does it mean people prefer death to boring life? I doubt it means that people think prison is an unbearably brutal place, because I doubt that people realize in detail just how nasty the nation's overcrowded, rape-, gang-, and drug-plagued, corruptly-policed prisons are anyway. (If they did, I'd like to think they'd be outraged at the gross human rights abuses and would be clamoring for reform.)
posted by Joe Hutch at 7:15 AM on June 13, 2001


Joe: I think what the four jurors who cited prison-worse-than-death as one reason among others for a life sentence here may mean that in prison, you have to think about your crimes forever. At least that's part of the reason for prison being worse that I've heard over time. And chances are that in a federal prison, this guy would've been placed in solitary confinement, with no access to phones anywhhere on site and a robotic arm to bring him his food. I'm not kidding.
posted by raysmj at 7:20 AM on June 13, 2001


Does it mean our prisons are so bad they are worse than death? Or that people think death is no big deal?

I think that's a popular misconception in general. Many ex-convicts find ways to get back into prison, as it can become a place where they feel more secure. Yes, they are rough, and it's not like any summer camp...but you can get used to it. As for the idea that prisons make you think about your crimes, that is not happening for the most part. It's about containment mostly. Many prisons do have churches, and rehabilitation/education programs. The idea is, if a prisoner is allowed to go back to society, give him enough resources so he doesn't end up coming back within a week because he's without a job or life outside of it. But participation is voluntary, so containment is the higher priority.
posted by samsara at 7:52 AM on June 13, 2001


samsara: This was a life sentence. He will not be eligible for parole, and the jurors knew that. He'll almost definitely be in solitary confinement.
posted by raysmj at 8:02 AM on June 13, 2001


Nine felt that killing al-'Owhali would not alleviate the suffering of the victims or family members and four said that death by lethal injection was ``very humane and the defendant may not suffer.''

Ok, some people have touched on the first part of this statement, but what about the last part? Does this bother anybody? Is the goal of the justice system to try to make offenders suffer as much as possible? I realize that he performed an abominable act, but this just seems like these four jurors are looking to exact revenge, not justice. What about "cruel and unusual punishment"? While I agree with their decision not to give him the death penalty, I'm bothered that the decision was based on the opinion that the punishment wouldn't be cruel enough.
posted by jnthnjng at 8:13 AM on June 13, 2001


Well, that is a good point BFT, except I don't know if the jury ever heard about that part. Was there any real evidence of this third guy, and was it presented to McVeigh's jury? He seemed pretty intent on coming off as the mastermind, possibly to protect the identity of his co-conspirator(s).
posted by donkeymon at 8:30 AM on June 13, 2001


Mocata hit it right on the head. Even with "death qualification" procedures, it is very difficult to imagine a New York City jury bringing in a death penalty for any case.

Most of my fellow NYC lawyers think that those guys who killed the 7 people execution-style in the Wendy's in Queens will not face the hot needle, because of the same jury factors.

Moral of the story (from the standpoint of the Justice Department) -- don't bring terrorist prosecutions in New York. They already know that this is the case about Washington DC.

I'm sure that some people in the DoJ are hard at work on a brief which will enable off-shore terrorist prosecutions to be brought in less liberal environs in the midwest or South.
posted by MattD at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2001


a poll last fall showed that 48% of people, given a choice, would rather be executed than serve a life sentence without parole. Does it mean people prefer death to boring life?

Considering that that statistic implies that 52% of people think the oppositie, and 52% > 48%, I'd think it means exactly the reverse.
posted by kindall at 10:18 AM on June 13, 2001


jnthnjng: You don't have any basis to say that the jurors thought the decision would more more cruel or whatnot. They only said the death penalty as administered does not make people suffer. It seems to be more clear daily that there are only two things to say in favor of the death penalty in such cases: One, it's a deterrent and two, it will keep bigtime terrorists and "poster-child" mass murderers from ever killing again. Neither defense is dead on. One, it's not a deterrent. McVeigh, etc. knew the penalty going on. Two, you keep the criminals in prison several years in trials, appeals, etc., with the (exceedingly low) possibility of escape. If you wanted it short and sweet and the guy out of everyone's way as soon as possible, you'd want someone to declare a permanent state of emergency (martial law) or to formally declare war against terrorists in the U.S., if that could be done. Then of course there is no special death penalty law for terrorists (how to define them, exactly?). After going through all this debate, you have one thing left: The death penalty is severe punishment that fits the crime, eye for an eye, bigtime suffering. In reality, the suffering's not all that great. So what's the point, really? Stoning's not an option, so . . .

Please note that much the same thing could be said of less severe death penalty cases.
posted by raysmj at 10:27 AM on June 13, 2001


raysmj: his was a life sentence. He will not be eligible for parole, and the jurors knew that. He'll almost definitely be in solitary confinement.

In many cases, those that serve life sentances without parole, are lumped in with those that are contained for drug offences, murder, rape, pedophilia, etc....

Solitary confinement is one of the perks to an underpopulated prison, but is still used as a form of punishment (ie. to be put in the hole). In most cases convicts like these are put in maximum security with at least one other occupant per cell. The distinction between full time and part time prisoners is not usually made. Like I said, priority one is containment and even those with no chance of parole get the opportunity to involve themselves in rehabilitation programs or prison churches even though it seems futile.
posted by samsara at 12:46 PM on June 13, 2001


what would socrates say?(i dont know, hes dead) o.k. what might he say if he where alive?.......
posted by clavdivs at 1:06 PM on June 13, 2001


In reality, the suffering's not all that great. So what's the point, really?

I agree with you that the death penalty is not much of a deterrent to other criminals. And as a proponent of the death penalty, it pains me to see other proponents continue to trot out that worn saw. It's obviously not a deterrent, the numbers bear that out, and those who favor the death penalty should quit trying to play that card.

I think the main argument in favor of the death penalty versus life in prison is that, with life, the murderer still "wins," in that he has his life, where his victims do not. Although prison is doubtful to be a picnic, it is still preferable to the murderer than execution. Here's why:

*Prisoners are able to make a life for themselves, even enjoy some measure of creature comfort.

*Prisoners may continue to victimize others (in this case, other prisoners).

*While there is life, there is hope - for parole, perhaps, or even escape. It is rare, but it does happen, and with the rest of your life to plan and execute escape attempts...

While life in prison may be harsh, it is not necessarily bad, if you get me. And as such, it simply is not a suitable punishment for for the crimes that currently warrant it.

Those against capital punishment sometimes make the point that, often as not, the relatives of the victim do not want the murderer to be executed. Although I can empathize, my contention would be that it really isn't up to them. The justice system has an obligation not only to the victims but to the entire society to punish the murderer, regardless of the feelings of the victims. After all, the reverse is not true, is it? If a mugger takes my wallet, and I say I think he should be put away for 20 years for it, the DA obviously cannot do that, as the statutes don't allow it.
posted by UncleFes at 1:19 PM on June 13, 2001


Socrates:I'm so terribly, terribly old. I'm 2500 years old. Why am I still alive? May the spirits who rule our cosmos finally grant me death, for I am so old and withered that I resemble a cricket. Help me.

Sorry. I know this is a serious subject, really, but that's all I could think of. I'm very tired.
posted by Ezrael at 2:49 PM on June 13, 2001


Considering that that statistic implies that 52% of people think the oppositie, and 52% > 48%, I'd think it means exactly the reverse.

It seems to, but I should have given the rest of the poll responses: 34% chose life in prison, and 18% refused to answer or were undecided.
posted by Joe Hutch at 2:56 PM on June 13, 2001


Many of you seem to be missing out on the obvious cultural difference between New York and Oklahoma. I can't find a link to defend my position here*, but when was the last time New York citizens gave the death sentence to someone? Tim McVeigh was tried and convicted in Oklahoma, was he not? Please correct me if I'm wrong here. I don't think it was in New York.

New York is a more international hub, and however slight and indirectly, opinions and ideals of other countries tend to affect it more. Here, south of the mason dixon line and west of the Mississippi river, we're not quite as gunshy. That's apparent here in Texas moreso than Oklahoma, as is evident from the death sentences Governor Bush signed off before he became Country Governor.** In fact, I actually agreed that capital punishment was acceptable before I witnessed the practical bloodbath Shrub was participating in here. Now I'm finding myself rethinking that belief. It doesn't curb crime. It does nothing to ease the suffering of those directly affected by crime. It brings us down to the level of the criminal. There's gotta be a better way.

Europe's thought that for some time. In fact it's one of the issues being brought to Shrub's attention on his first trip to Europe in the capacity of Country Governor. Europe is questioning America's stance on capital punishment. It makes us look comparatively barbaric to how countries on the other side of the pond view things.

I for one am beginning to agree with the European view. Maybe I should move to New York?

* ...I did find this dated 1998. There's been a New Yorkers for Fairness in Capital Punishment group since 1994. I'm not aware of a similar group in Texas. Then there's this thing from the National Review dated March 2000. Even New Yorkers were viewing "Gov. Bush as something of a Lord High Executioner" back then, but I can't find any link that indicates New York juries have okayed the execution of anybody within the past several years. Have they?

** I refuse to refer to Shrub as president.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:15 AM on June 14, 2001


Americans have no problem executing foreigners. Right now there are almost 100 foreign nationals on death row, from 33 different countries, and since the 70's almost 30 have already been executed.

Indeed, a number on death row (including two Germans) were tried and convicted without any access to consular assistance. Which is the sort of thing which pisses off European governments more than somewhat.

Just one thought: how many American MeFites knew the death toll from the Nairobi bombing? As opposed to that in OKC? After all, when it comes to the parish media, dead Kenyans don't count.
posted by holgate at 6:28 AM on June 14, 2001


ZachsMind asked "when was the last time New York citizens gave the death sentence to someone?"

New York City: July 1998.
New York State: August 2000.


We had no death penalty for many years because Gov Cuomo vetoed it every year. Then he got retired by the voters, so ....

Even the administrators of the death penalty feel guilty and embarassed about it. That's why they're not public.
posted by anewc2 at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2001


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