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MEET THE PRESS (10:00 AM ET)
May 13, 2001, Sunday

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Phil Donahue, Timothy McVeigh blew up a building, 168 people dead, 19 children, 30 orphans created. Why shouldn't he die by lethal injection?

MR. DONAHUE: Because I think it reduces our image in the world as the premier democracy within the community of democracies that celebrates individual rights. We are, around the world, seen as people who execute retarded teen-agers. This is what you get when you engage in violence. And now we have Timothy McVeigh, who I think is an example, is Exhibit A for what's wrong with the death penalty. We have 3,700 people on death row, 3,700. How many of their boxes have been lost? How many documents were not turned over to their defense lawyers? We already have the governor of Illinois, a Republican, George Ryan, saying, "Hold it." He said so after a journalism class at Northwestern University, as a class project, freed a man who had one foot in death's door. DNA evidence has shown us that scores of people who have been put on death row didn't do it, were innocent. How can anyone stand here and look the other way when we know we are executing innocent people? It's inevitable, as evidenced by what we're seeing now in the McVeigh case.

MR. RUSSERT: Pat Buchanan, 95 people on death row have been exonerated over the last decade and supporters against the death penalty will say it is barbaric that 85 percent of those put to death in the world are done by China, the Congo, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States; that it's more expensive, $ 2 million more to kill a person with all the appeals than it is to put them in prison for 40 years; that it's not a deterrent, that states which have a death penalty, have the same homicide rate as not and that three-fourths of the people on death row are minorities. Those are their arguments.

MR. DONAHUE: That's awful.

MR. RUSSERT: How do you respond?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I respond this way. Those countries you named sound like a list of those on the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations from which we were just expelled, which is, of course, a farce. Secondly, I'm not going to defend what's been going on with the McVeigh case. He's not a retarded youth and he's not innocent. McVeigh engaged in cold-blooded murder. He dynamited a building, he killed 168 people, men, women and children. There are a number of questions you ask yourself, Tim. One, did he know what he was doing? Did he know it was wrong? Did he intend to slaughter these people who were innocent people?

If the answers to those questions are yes, then I believe the proper punishment for a crime of that magnitude is that he surrender his life to pay back for all the lives that were lost. Also, that society has been wounded. However, the McVeigh case has taken longer than World War II, longer than World War II from the explosion to today. That shows a society that is befuddled, that is confused in a way, I think that is morally confused. Mr. McVeigh should be dead by now. That thing--he should have been prosecuted, tried, convicted, sentenced and that carried out. The country needs finality. And it hasn't been getting it.

MR. RUSSERT: Opponents of the death penalty will say if it's more costly, if it's not a deterrent and if it's barbaric, then the only reason you can be for it is revenge, an eye for an eye.

MR. BUCHANAN: How can you say it is barbaric? I would suggest that the Catholic Church, which has approved of it for 2000 years, is barbaric. America is barbaric, which has approved of it. The American people are barbaric. It is not revenge. It is retribution. You pay back for what you have done. Why does it take all this money and all this time? That's because of the criminal justice system. We've complicated far more than we used to.

Tim, as I talked to you the other day, that fellow, Zangara, that tried to murder FDR, January 31, 1933, after he was elected, he didn't kill FDR. He shot and killed Mayor Cermak. He was tried, prosecuted, convicted, had his appeal heard and executed in one month. Justice should be swift and sure. It has not been in this case. Certainly the death penalty deters. Why else, quite frankly, is the godfather, for example, the safest guy in the prison walls? Because you touch the godfather and you're a dead man and there's no federal appellate court.

MR. RUSSERT: Phil Donahue, on Mr. Buchanan's point, if somebody else is out there figuring "You know what, if I blow up a building, I can spend life in prison. I'll pay that price in order to make a statement about my views towards the United States government." But if he thinks he's going to die, it might deter him.

MR. DONAHUE: Well, you're suggesting that we know what goes on inside the mind of a person who is so removed from reality, so messianic that he's capable of killing someone else's children to make his point, I'm not sure the difference in the decision of this kind of heinous act is going to be whether or not I serve life or whether I die. Incidentally, Patrick, the Catholic Church is against capital punishment as expressed by our pope, many times recently. So they have changed, as have wardens who have escorted men to death row. They are against it, feel terrible about what's happened, and many of them have been brave enough to stand up and be counted. One more thing, we should make the point that Timothy McVeigh now has power. He is torturing us even more. Imagine these loved ones of the 168 people who died have to now, after having focused on next Wednesday...

MR. BUCHANAN: You know what?

MR. DONAHUE: ...he's making us wait some more. And what happens when he decides, "Maybe I don't want to die. I'm gonna fight this." And he will have us...

MR. BUCHANAN: He can drag it out for the simple reason we got...

MR. DONAHUE: Like the ant under the microscope, he's...

MR. BUCHANAN: He can drag it out for the simple reason we got a lot of Phil Donahues in the American criminal justice system who have dragged this thing out year in and year out. As I say, six years it's taken, longer than World War II. Let me talk about the Catholic Church. There are two sources of truth in the Catholic Church, scripture and tradition. Scripture authorizes the death penalty, virtually mandates it. The tradition of the Catholic Church has held that it is valid punishment for 1,900, 2,000 years now. The pope's personal...

MR. RUSSERT: But this pope--Pope John Paul II has interceded and asked President Bush to spare Mr. McVeigh.

MR. BUCHANAN: The pope's personal opinion, which ought to be respected, and he does it all the time, is to intervene and ask that the execution not be carried out. You should respect that opinion but the teaching of the Catholic Church, aquinous and augustine, which the pope himself cannot change, authorizes the death penalty. The American people want it. We're a democracy. They ought to have it.

MR. RUSSERT: Phil Donahue, if you could speak to the parents of the children who died in this bombing, or to the children who lost parents, how would you explain to them that Timothy McVeigh should not be punished by death?

MR. DONAHUE: Well, I would begin by--first of all, I wouldn't want the job. This is hardly the audience that someone would want to choose to make this case. But we should also make the point that significant numbers of relatives of people who died have opposed the execution of Tim McVeigh. And we would like those people who look upon those who are against the death penalty as somehow pointy-headed, wide-eyed, unrealistic people who don't understand crime, we're as frightened as you are. We are as concerned about crime as the people who support capital punishment. Don't accuse us of being soft on crime. We believe the answer is life without parole, which if it had been granted to Tim McVeigh, would have taken him off the front page, would have reduced our agony here at the beginning of the millennium. Maybe we could spend more time worrying about education and other important things instead of being focused on death. The execution of a citizen has now commandeered America's conscious.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, he's a media celebrity now, and he's shouldn't be. And he's going to be the rest of his life if he's not put to death. Also, if he is not executed, the husbands, wives, children of all those people massacred in Oklahoma City, they will pay their taxes for 40 or 50 years, so that Timothy McVeigh can be housed and fed and clothed.

MR. DONAHUE: It's cheaper.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, let's not talk.

MR. DONAHUE: It's cheaper. It's cheaper to put him in prison for life, Patrick...

MR. BUCHANAN: All right. Look...

MR. DONAHUE: ...than it is to go through these endless appeals. And you keep making the point about five years for McVeigh longer than World War II. Most death row prisoners are on death row longer than that, at a greater cost in legal fees, public prosecutor fees.

MR. BUCHANAN: They should not be. Look, hold on. Look, this guy McVeigh is a media celebrity. He will be interviewed. He will be on "Larry King." You keep him alive, all his life, he will be an immensely famous person and we will feed, clothe and house him while he is doing that. And I think that is an outrage to those people. We need finality.

MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Pat Buchanan and Phil Donahue can be seen tonight for a full hour on CNBC, 10 p.m. Eastern; 7 p.m. Pacific, on whether or not America should have the death penalty. We'll be right back.

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