opinion | Megan Foley

Executing my father’s killers didn’t bring peace to our family

This photo of Laurence Foley was taken the day before he was killed outside his home in Jordan in 2002. His assassins were hanged in 2006.
This photo of Laurence Foley was taken the day before he was killed outside his home in Jordan in 2002. His assassins were hanged in 2006.

My father, Laurence Foley, was born and raised in Boston. Bitten by John F. Kennedy’s call to public service, he joined the Peace Corps in 1965. From that point, there was no stopping him; he worked in international development for the US government for 20 more years.

In 2002, he was assassinated in front of his home in Amman, Jordan, by men who were later found to comprise an Al Qaeda cell. Many of the gunmen were later caught, convicted, and executed by the state of Jordan.

That makes me and my family some of the few who actually know how it feels to have a loved one’s killers executed. It was presumed that executing my dad’s killers would make us feel better, would give us a sense of justice and closure.


It did not.

Get Arguable in your inbox:
Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

I didn’t know beforehand what I know now. I didn’t know that executing killers doesn’t bring an ounce of peace to the families of victims. I didn’t know that what makes a victim of terrorism feel better is to have a chance to connect, understand, and explain. I never got to tell my father’s killers that my dad had spent his life trying to help people who didn’t have medical care or clean water. I didn’t have a chance to tell them that my father wasn’t responsible for the political arm of the United States’ overseas actions. Just like the victims of the Boston bombing haven’t been able to tell Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who their loved ones were, and why the world is worse off without them and not better.

In turn, I never got the chance for time to change the minds of those men, for them to grow out of impetuous action and into a wiser understanding of how to manage trouble. I never heard them say they were sorry for what they did. All possibility for growth, for redemption, was eliminated when they were killed. And that means a certain kind of peace that I could have come to feel has been taken away from me by the people who wanted to help, never to be returned.

Let’s not make this same mistake with the victims of the Marathon bombings and their families. In our anger and our grief, we’ll be tempted to sentence Tsarnaev to death if he is convicted. We might offer that option as a gift to the victims, telling them that this is what will bring them peace and closure.

But it won’t. Time, and the opportunity for redemption, that’s what brings peace and closure. I know.


This past September, my father’s name was inscribed on the wall at Boston’s Garden of Peace. Alongside his name are the names of victims of the Marathon bombings. My dad and those folks are already connected, resting together in a place that actively wishes peace upon this world. Let us not make the same mistake with Tsarnaev that was made with my father’s killers. As we learned from Martin Luther King Jr., back when my father first committed his life to service: Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

Rev. Megan Foley is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Germantown, Md.