• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Make him really suffer

Question of the day: The death penalty for Dzokhoar Tsarnaev, yes or no?

They poisoned McVeigh, put a bullet in bin Laden’s head.

America’s two most brutal terrorists met the same fate they brought about for so many others. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh died in a federal prison, Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani safe house. Both deaths were welcomed by a relieved American public.

By and large, however, that hasn’t been the way the U.S. government has punished those who have masterminded terrorist attacks on home soil. Today, the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, sits in a supermax cell in Colorado, as does Eric Rudolph, who detonated a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Both were domestic terrorists who killed a handful of people in crimes similar to those Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of committing in Boston. In that same prison, too, is Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker” who was convicted in the 9/11 attacks. All three were eligible for the death penalty, and all three will likely die in prison. But it won’t be via lethal injection.

With investigators still looking to connect Tsarnaev and his late brother, Tamerlan, to overseas provocateurs, the debate over whether federal prosecutors should seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar is just beginning to rage. The prospect promises to put the Justice Department, and the Obama administration as a whole, in a tight spot, where the desire to punish Tsarnaev to the limit comes up against the pragmatics of the criminal-justice system.

There are still certain crimes so despicable that the death penalty seems like the best option, not for revenge or as a deterrent, but simply because there are some monsters I don't want on the planet with me. There was a time when I would have put somebody like this in that category, almost reflexively. But I'm sort of coming around to the "lock him in a small room so he has to think about what he's done for the rest of his long and miserable life" way of thinking.