So, the jury in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial decided that death was too good for him. Instead, we can look forward for literally DECADES of supporting him in prison, while waiting for the inevitable sob stories of how horrible life is for him behind bars, how misunderstood and mistreated he is, and wondering if each day is the day some terrorists take some Americans hostage to barter for his release.
In retrospect, I have to wonder if the fix was in from the outset. First, the government put forth a borderline-incomprehensible rationale for pushing for the death penalty (apparently he should have waived his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination and told all he knew) instead of the far more sensible conspiracy or felony homicide arguments. Then, a government lawyer nearly got the whole thing dismissed by coaching some witnesses on what other witnesses had said, in direct violation of the judge’s order. Finally, they stuck the jurors with a 41 pages of nearly incomprehensible gibberish they called a “questionnaire” that the jurors had to answer. If a single one did not say yes to every single question, then Moussaoui was to be spared — and he was.
I’m going to recap four points I made earlier.
First, to those who are glad that he was spared, because that was what he said he wanted: you’re fools. The wishes of the accused should bear no weight whatsoever on what punishment is inflicted. Once that is taken into account, you immediately start a game of second-guessing and reverse psychology, where you have to first decipher just what it is he wants, vs. what he wants you to think he wants, and you can never be quite sure who wins that game. The whole POINT of convicting someone is to deprive them of choices, of having any control over their fate, to inflict whatever punishment society has deemed appropriate. They have forfeited any rights to have any say over the matter.
Second, this just continues to prove that our criminal justice system is incapable of handling the unusual cases. O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, and now Moussaoui. In Simpson and Blake’s cases, I’m not sure what the remedy is, but for terrorists, there has to be a better way. In fact, there is — the World War II model. Several Nazis came to the United States to conduct sabotage and espionage. All were rounded up, put before a military tribunal as “unlawful combatants” (they were out of uniform), and executed. The same should have been done to Moussaoui — as soon as it was clear he was involved in 9/11, he should have been turned over to the military for justice.
Until then, I fully expect his lawyers to file appeal after appeal, articles to be written about how unfairly he is being treated, and eventually demands that he be freed. After all, the terrorist who killed Navy diver Robert Stethem in cold blood aboard a hijacked airplane in 1985 is now free, let go by Germany.
Thirdly, there will be no “prison justice” for Moussaoui. He will most likely be kept in utter solitary, away from the general populace. Jeffrey Dahmer’s death was an aberration. Richard Speck, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy are the rule. He will live a long, healthy life, at our expense, until he dies of natural causes.
Finally, to those who worried that an executed Moussaoui would become a martyr, congratulations. Now he’s a LIVING martyr, one who can talk about his “repentance,” one whose freedom can become a rallying cry, one who can continually remind the families of the nearly 3,000 who died on 9/11 that their loved ones are gone, but one of the plotters (and, nearly, one of the hijackers) continues to live — at their expense.
Dead martyrs tend to fade quickly from public memory. Living ones, though, are the gift that keeps on giving. Tookie Williams is largely forgotten, but Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, on the other hand, are still battle cries to some people.