Monday, April 25, 2005

Rudolph's plea

Seems I'm not the only one with questions about how the Justice Department handled Eric Rudolph's case. Now we're hearing from the conservative side of the aisle -- namely, Bill Shipp, a longtime observer of the Georgia political scene:
Pardon the paranoia, but something smells about the deal to let killer-bomber Eric Rudolph cop a plea and avoid a trial.

The Justice Department says it decided to spare Rudolph a death-sentence trial in exchange for information about the locations of relatively small amounts of explosives. Bull!

A determined prosecutor might have extracted the map to the dynamite with a promise not to seek the death penalty. And Rudolph's trial could have proceeded.

Former U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander says a trial and death sentence would have made "a martyr" of Rudolph, so waiving the trial was a good idea.

That is a curious position for Alexander, who was the government's chief lawyer in Atlanta when Rudolph planted a bomb at the 1996 Olympics that killed one person and injured scores of others.

If the martyrdom-avoidance defense worked for Rudolph, can you imagine what it might do for alleged Fulton courthouse killer Brian Nichols, the self-proclaimed "black warrior," when he is ready for trial in heavily black Atlanta?

The government says Rudolph set off four bombs -- the most famous one at the Olympics, another at an Atlanta gay bar, a third at a Sandy Springs family-planning office and a fourth at a Birmingham abortion clinic. At the end of his run, he had killed two people, wounded at least 120 and terrified thousands.

He is as much a terrorist as 9/11 plane-hijacker Mohammed Atta or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Ah, but the problem really is an administration that does not want us to think of terrorists in that fashion, and Shipp explains this as well as anyone I've seen:
Similarly, Rudolph's plea leaves us in the dark about his whole story. To be sure, he may have been as advertised: a government-hating, anti-abortion, survivalist crackpot. Still, we don't know who aided him or why. Who were his mentors and associates? Who helped him choose his targets and on what basis? Who protected him from arrest for all those years? Why did they harbor him when one simple phone call could have put a million dollars in their pocket?

Why did Washington agree to skip a trial that may have revealed the answers to all those questions? One possibility: The Justice Department doubted the ability of its attorneys to deliver a guilty verdict. The prosecutorial record in comparable cases is spotty at best. (The feds nailed McVeigh but struck out with Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing.)

If you're a conspiracy theorist, you have another answer. The government is reluctant to dig deeply into Rudolph's background or to identify publicly the forces that inspired him to become a pro-life killer. Letting him enter a guilty plea serves the purposes of the politically-attuned Justice Department as well as the defense. That sounds a bit nutty, you say? That explanation is no nuttier than a leading lawman's assertion that Rudolph's avoidance of trial "finally brings closure" to the case. Surely he is kidding.

One other thing: The government through the media has embedded in the national mind a portrait of terrorists as sinister-looking, bearded Middle Easterners who pray five times a day and have a fondness for taking flying lessons.

The trial of Eric Rudolph might have given us another picture: fair-skinned, clean-cut men claiming to be Christians, wearing fatigues and speaking American English, not unlike you and me.

Taken a step further, a picture might even be drawn of a home-grown terrorist who embraces the culture of life and then uses the tools of the death to protect that culture. The parallels with a president who speaks in defense of the sanctity of life, yet has built his legacy on death penalties and two overseas wars might make the U.S. judiciary a bit too uncomfortable.

It's pretty hard, in fact, to examine this administration's record without reaching the conclusion that it is more interested in marketing the idea of terrorism to the public than it is in actually combating terrorism.

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