A patsy is getting executed today for the deaths of 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1996. And an accomplice – the U.S. government – is getting away with murder.

Never in my life have I witnessed such a rush by Washington to put someone to death – and certainly not when so many unanswered questions still lingered around him and the terrorist atrocity he certainly helped plan and carry out.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft bears special responsibility for the rush to condemn Timothy McVeigh as the mastermind of the Alfred P. Murrah Building bomber. Even though the investigation was botched – intentionally or otherwise – under Janet Reno’s watch, Ashcroft has overseen this latest phase in which the FBI has been forced to admit its negligence.

But Ashcroft never wavered from his position that McVeigh was guilty no matter what and deserved to die sooner rather than later. He even suggested that the actual physical weight of the “misplaced” evidence was not that consequential – as if justice were meted out by the pound.

Ashcroft misses the point. Of course McVeigh is guilty and deserves to die. But guilty of what? And who helped him? McVeigh may deserve death, but he also deserves due process and a fair trial. I don’t think he got either under the rules devised by Reno and Ashcroft.

For one thing, we keep hearing that McVeigh was found guilty of the deaths of 168 people. I’ve got news for you. McVeigh’s truck bomb did not kill 168 people. It couldn’t have, according to top explosives experts who examined the forensic evidence. The government knows this.

There were other bombs involved. Investigators at the scene reported finding two other unexploded devices. Whatever happened to those critical pieces of evidence? Probably the same thing that happened to other evidence that didn’t fit neatly into the FBI’s pre-conceived lone bomber theory – it was deep-sixed. The government knows this.

Destruction of evidence in a mass murder trial like this is a very serious offense. What would cause so many people at the highest levels of government to involve themselves in a criminal conspiracy of this kind? Obviously, the stakes are high. Apparently, the risk is considered worth it. Which can mean only one thing – there is complicity in this bombing by the government.

What else would explain why so many government agents, apparently tipped off about plans for a federal building bombing that day, did not report for work on April 19? What else would explain why the bomb squad showed up at the Murrah building before the first explosion? What else would explain why so much evidence of a broader conspiracy would be rejected, ignored or buried by investigators?

Is McVeigh guilty of murder? Sure. But we are supposed to be a nation of laws. The Constitution is more important than the speed at which Timothy McVeigh assumes room temperature.

I think Ashcroft tipped his hand when he said that McVeigh wanted to put the government on trial and that was unacceptable. Sure McVeigh wanted to put the government on trial. The government deserves to be on trial. A man is innocent in this country until proven guilty in a fair trial. McVeigh’s defense team was denied evidence. A mistrial should have been declared and a new trial date set. That’s the way it works in America every day.

There isn’t a drug dealer or petty thief in America who wouldn’t have received a mistrial had authorities admitted withholding evidence from defense attorneys. Why should McVeigh not get the same treatment?

But Ashcroft and his FBI understand the dangers of a new trial. They want to sweep all this under the rug. They want to make the Oklahoma City bombing go away, just like the Murrah building itself was eradicated so quickly. They want to make McVeigh go away.

Yet, I believe, this rush to execution will have just the opposite effect. I believe the speculation and the conspiracy theorizing will only grow. In the vacuum of information the government has left us with, there is nothing else to fill it. People will lose even more respect for their political institutions. And, in the long run, sadly, Timothy McVeigh will get just what he wanted – to discredit the U.S. government.

McVeigh will be executed today. But, thanks to the U.S. government, his ghost will haunt America for a long time to come.

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