John Allen Muhammad, Death Penalty and the Gulf War Syndrome

“Let’s call it [the death penalty] by its real name…and recognize it for what it is–vengeance!”

— Albert Camus

The state of Virginia, on Nov. 10, 2009, at 9:11 P.M., executed by lethal injection the Washington area sniper, John Allen Muhammad, aka John Allen Williams. The deed was carried out at the death chamber, at the Greensville Correctional Center, in Jarratt, just south of Richmond. Muhammad was convicted of killing Dean Howell Meyers, who was refueling his car in Manassas, VA, on Oct. 7, 2002. The Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, rejected Muhammad’s lawyers’ plea to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. On his killing spree, which inspired widespread fear and panic, Muhammad left nine other innocent dead victims in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. His motive for his shooting rampage, committed at random, went to the grave with him.

There wasn’t anything the Commonwealth of Virginia could do to bring back the victims of Muhammad’s murderous onslaught. As far as his execution being a deterrent to other would-be killers, the record shows that such an argument doesn’t hold any water. And, if the state truly believed in its deterrent argument, then why didn’t it put Muhammad’s execution on television?

One sign from anti-death penalty protesters outside the prison read: “We remember the victims, but not with more killing.”

If Virginia had waited just one more day, it could have killed Muhammad on Veterans Day! How ironic that would have been. He had served his country honorably in the slaughterhouse known as “The Persian Gulf War,” (Aug. 1990 to Feb. 1991.) You remember that bloody conflict don’t you? It was brought to you, courtesy of Dubya’s daddy–Bush 1. How could you ever forget the gruesome images of carnage from the notorious “Highway of Death?” [1]

In trying to save their client’s life, Muhammad’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully to Governor Kaine that their client was physically and mentally impaired from “brain damage and neurological problems, as well as psychotic and delusional behavior, exacerbated by the ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ he suffered as a sergeant in the first Gulf War.” [2] (See, my piece from Oct. 31, 2002, entitled: “Chemical Weapons and Homicidal Mania: Coincidence or Cause?”) Another Gulf War veteran, like Muhammad, who may have been exposed to dangerous nerve chemicals, including depleted uranium, also went through a dramatic, drastic personality transformation. His name was–Timothy J. McVeigh! [3]

Muhammad’s wife, Mildred, has said that she didn’t know her husband when he came back from the war. “He was a very angry man…The one I knew stayed in Saudi.” [4]

This brings me to the poet Oscar Wilde. He wrote, in 1898, the “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” about a man who was executed at the prison, in Reading, England, for the murder of his wife:

“They hanged him as a beast is hanged:
They did not even toll
a requiem that might have brought
Rest to his startled soul.
But hurriedly they took him out,
And hid him in a hole.”

Albert Camus, the Algerian-born author of “The Stranger, believed that capital punishment becomes “premeditated murder by the state…and tarnishes our society…The life of a human being is above the State.” Camus was convinced that in many situations the crimes of the state “far outweigh those of individuals.” [5] He was writing after WWII and long before the Bush 1 and Dubya launched their illegal and immoral wars against the peoples of Iraq.

There are currently 3,297 inmates on death rows in the U.S. California (the Golden State) has 678, followed by Florida (the Orange Coast) with 402, and Dubya’s special hide out–Texas– coming in third with 358. Thirty-five states have the death penalty. [6] It is almost always used against the poor and minorities. If you’re rich, you will have the money to buy your way out of a date with the Hangman, via retaining the best lawyers, shrinks and expert witnesses. (Think music producer Phil Spector’s murder case out in California.) Now, thanks to DNA, more innocent defendants, once languishing on death rows, have been spared paying the ultimate price for a crime that they didn’t commit. [7]

The recent horrific tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas, has spotlighted how our country’s disastrous war policies have impacted significantly on the health and well being of the personnel who are called on to fight and/or support those battles. That military base is one of the largest in the U.S., with about 50,000 soldiers. It is reporting “over 10 suicides each month–at least 75 have been recorded” early in this year alone. [8]

The U.S. Congress knows what’s been happening to our veterans when they “come home,” but it has done little or nothing about the crisis. On Oct. 17, 2007, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), at a press conference on Capitol Hill, was lamenting the fact that so many veterans were coming back from the Iraq War and ending up–homeless–and not getting the adequate medical treatment that they needed. First, he pointed to the recent past. Rep. Filner said that “over half of the homeless on the streets tonight, 200,000, are Vietnam veterans. As many Vietnam [War] Vets have now committed suicide as died in the original war. That’s over 58,000…We see the same thing happening again. The suicide rates are back up [with respect to the Iraq War veterans] to where they were in the Vietnam period….The President [Dubya] says ‘support the troops’…but when they come home, they are on their own…This war is about saving [Dubya’s] face!” [9]

(As an aside, when asked why they continue to fund the wars, even though they say they are against them, I often hear a Capitol Hill politico bark: “I support the troops!” That is the knee jerk response of my favorite hypocrite–Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). However, the “Baltimore Sun” reported, on Oct. 2, 2009, that she has received “over $544,000” in campaign contributions, since 1989, from “defense industry” firms tied to the influential Military-Industrial Complex. Question: “Who is it that you really ‘support,’ Sen. Mikulski?”)

Carl G. Jung, a genuine seeker of the truth, wrote: “The evil in man…is of gigantic proportions.” But, that Man doesn’t see it in himself. It always “the others.” Thus, Jung says Man “regards himself as harmless and so, add stupidity to iniquity.”

What are we really like? For as long as I can remember America has been fighting wars on foreign soils, putting mostly indigent and/or mentally impaired inmates to death for capital offenses, and building more prisons. Now, we’ve got the highest incarceration rate on the planet. Yet, we call ourselves a “peace-loving people.” I attended a church supper up in Centre County, PA recently. As soon as I walked into hall, I noticed a huge banner on the wall extolling Jesus as the–“Prince of Peace.” Really! Where are the followers of this Prince of Peace? Are they on holiday?

By the way, isn’t Virginia a so-called “Pro-Life state?” If so, why does it still have the death penalty?

As for our fighting soldiers, they are victims on both the front line and when they get back home. The nation, and our troops, need to know what kind of poisons had contaminated Muhammad, age 48, a badly disturbed man and others like him. [10]

I leave the final words of this commentary to the legendary Wilde, one of Ireland’s greatest literary sons:

“This too I know–and wise it were
If each could know the same–
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars least Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.” [11]






[5]. “Intro To Camus” by David Zane Mairowitz





[10]. and and

[11]. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on Oct. 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. See, Richard Ellmann’s “Oscar Wilde.”