As the minutes tick down to the first Federal execution in decades, Sam Donaldson spoke with three of the people who have tried to understand Timothy McVeigh and his motives for killing 168 people in 1995: authors Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel, and attorney Nathan Chambers. The following is a partial transcript of those conversations.
COKIE ROBERTS, ABCNEWS Early this morning, a little more than 24 hours before his execution, Timothy McVeigh was moved to a holding cell near the execution chamber. The Bureau of Prisons reports the transfer occurred without any incident. McVeigh offered no resistance, Sam.
SAM DONALDSON, ABCNEWS Well, Cokie, McVeigh has revealed more of his thinking as he prepares for death in a series of letters sent to The Buffalo News. And joining us now from Terre Haute outside the prison are Buffalo News reporters Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel.
LOU MICHEL, CO-AUTHOR, AMERICAN TERRORIST Good morning, Sam.
DAN HERBECK, CO-AUTHOR, AMERICAN TERRORIST Good morning.
DONALDSON Why do you think McVeigh sent these letters here at the last minute? Lou?
MICHEL I think he wanted it clearly known to the people of Oklahoma City that he meant them no harm; specifically, that it was the federal government, he believed, that backed him into a corner, and he had to strike back because he thought they were coming after him. He tore a page from, he said, U.S. government foreign policy and bombed the Murrah Building just as a president would order a bombing on Bosnia or Iraq.
DONALDSON Well, in talking to you about the book you wrote, American Terrorist, in which he talked about collateral damage — referring to the children killed that day — he seems to say much the same thing. Let me just read a passage from one of these new letters and have you comment on it. McVeigh told you, "I am sorry these people had to lose their lives. But that's the nature of the beast. It's understood going in what the human toll will be." Dan?
HERBECK He has always talked to us about this bombing in the role of a soldier. And maybe that's the only way he can deal with what he's done, looking at it as a soldier who has done a mission and, in his mind, mission accomplished. He always describes it in military terms.
DONALDSON And he continues to say in these letters to you that it was Waco. That if it hadn't been for that Waco incident, he might just have lived his life in an ordinary way. Do you believe that?
HERBECK Well, I wouldn't pin this whole thing on Waco. But when we asked Tim McVeigh to go through his memories and try and fix for us what would be the single defining moment that pushed him toward Oklahoma City, he told us it was Waco. And he said, after the massacre, as he called it, at Waco, he felt that no American gun owner was safe in their own home. And he said "From that point on, I knew I was going to take action against the US government."
DONALDSON In these letters to you that you're publishing this morning, once again, he talks about his belief or nonbelief in an afterlife. And he said, "I will improvise, adapt and overcome. If I'm going to hell, I'm going to have a lot of company."
What does that mean to you, Dan?