April 19, 2004

April 19

It's odd to read, in Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy, written by McVeigh's chief defense counsel, Enid, Okla., attorney Stephen Jones, lines like this one, about the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City:

Without a doubt, Oklahoma -- and the nation -- had just experienced the worst case of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States.

Throughout the 80-odd pages of the book I've read so far, Jones uses the superlative about that terrible day -- not surprising, since it was written before McVeigh's May 16, 2001, execution, before the events of Sept. 11. The "Others Unknown" of the title refers to phrasing in the federal indictment charging McVeigh, Terry Nichols and "others unknown" with the bombing -- later, as Jones notes in the preface, those others unknown were held not to exist. Jones wrote the book in part because he was convinced that some of those responsible for the bombing (and he expresses no doubts whatsoever that McVeigh was one of them) escaped without punishment.

This has actually long been my suspicion, and one needn't subscribe to conspiracy theories to believe it. The government has to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt; it may well have had all kinds of evidence pointing to a wider conspiracy, but none of it strong enough to act on. Recall also the ruse employed by Sam Spade in the tail end of Dashiell Hammett's masterpiece The Maltese Falcon. Spade tells the conspirators that he can pin all the murders on the fall guy, Wilmer Cook, because the district attorney will recognize that the full case is too tangled, but he can convict Cook "standing on his head." After all, Spade says, Cook actually did kill Thursby and Jacoby. (For those who haven't read the novel, or the seen the equally classic film, I can only say what on earth are you waiting for?).

Now, new evidence has surfaced, specifically a document (link goes to a PDF file) suggesting that McVeigh and an accomplice were captured by a surveillance camera. The woman, apparently, is directing the truck into the space where it was when it exploded. A few thoughts: 1) It's entirely possible the tape does not, in fact, exist, despite the description of it in the document; 2) If the tape does exist, and show what it describes, it's also possible that the woman was a passerby unconnected to the conspiracy, who merely helped a driver park his truck; 3) the tape, if it exists, may not show what the memo says it shows, namely McVeigh's car leaving the scene before two men emerged from the truck.

Still, even if the story of the videotape (and the witness who saw two men fleeing the scene) turns out to be inaccurate, I still think the government chose the expediency of a neat trial with no loose ends to a full investigation that aimed to bring as many of those responsible for the bombing to justice.

April 19 is also the anniversary of the assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. I have little sympathy for the ideas or practices of this group, and let's be clear: the proper way to battle federal agents bearing warrants, no matter how aggressive or obnoxious or threatening they are, is not with a gun but rather through the courts, but the February raid and the April assault are black marks on the U.S. government, which clearly denied these people their constitutional rights. For the best account I've read of the various issues raised by the assault -- legal, religious and social -- read Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict, edited by Stuart A. Wright. It's a fascinating -- and deeply disturbing -- read.

Posted by Ideofact at April 19, 2004 10:20 PM

though, there is one human leg that does not belong to any of the 168 victims, unaccounted for. The leg is either from a very short man or an average woman, and the fact that none of teh rest of that body was recovered suggests that the person was staning very close to the bomb.

The 169th victim? given that there hasnt been any missing-persons outcry from people who were supposed to be at the Federal building that day, its likely someone who was not supposed to be there...

Posted by: Aziz at April 20, 2004 02:11 PM

Yeah, I saw that. I think it's entirely possible that the leg belongs to no one involved in the bombing.

I think there are a lot of unanswered questions about the Oklahoma City case, and like I said, one doesn't have to believe in black helicopters to think so.

Posted by: Bill at April 20, 2004 06:25 PM

heh, but the Mystery Leg sounds so... coool.

Posted by: Aziz at April 21, 2004 08:48 AM

One of the things I came across in the Jones book bearing on the leg:

Jones was convinced, as noted, that McVeigh went to great lengths to take the fall for the bombing, to the exclusion of the "Others Unknown." Jones had McVeigh take a polygraph test at one point -- sort of saying to McVeigh, "Okay, you're so proud you had no help, are you willing to put it to the test on a polygraph to prove it to us?"

On three questions dealing with other accomplices, McVeigh's responses suggested he was not telling the truth.

They also asked him, "Do you know who that leg belongs to?" McVeigh, according to the machine truthfully, answered no.

Again, nothing definitive one way or the other, but interesting nonetheless.

Posted by: Bill at April 21, 2004 12:51 PM


I don't know much about the case, but if McVeigh was going to great lengths to take the blame to the exclusion of others, why did he plead not guilty and go to trial?

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at April 21, 2004 02:51 PM

Sorry for not responding sooner. McVeigh, according to Jones, wanted to be acquitted for the bombing; that may sound contradictory to his claim of sole responsibility for the bombing, but there it is.

I'll try to explain more in another post on the book tonight.

Posted by: Bill at April 22, 2004 01:06 PM