Thursday, May 04, 2006

Moussaoui Lives

At last, the grotesque spectacle is over. Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted (however periperally) in connection with the 9/11 attacks, will spend the rest of his life in prison. The United States will not be carrying out his execution.

Those of you who are longtime TMBS readers know my feelings on the death penalty. For you new readers, here goes. I'm against it. Always. In every instance.

Why? Because I have a soul, and I don't believe that I should kill other human beings out of revenge. If I won't do it, I won't have the government, acting on my behalf, do it and dress it up in terms like "the ultimate punishment." It's killing. We, as a civilized society, should not be in the business of executing people. This is not an abstract discussion for me. I've had my opportunity to face this decision directly, when the man who killed my brother was sentenced, and when it came time to make the call, I couldn't do it. I could not be a party to murder, even for a man who had murdered my own brother.

The federal prosecutors had two challenges in this trial. First, they had to convict Moussaoui for something that would tie him to the 9/11 hijackings, even though everyone knows he was in jail in Minnesota when the planes took flight. So they wrangled a conviction on the grounds that Moussaoui should have confessed he was part of the plot when he was arrested in August 2001. As many civil liberties lawyers have explained, this is essentially convicting ZM for not implicating himself in a crime, which he has every right not to do under our Fifth Amendment. The precedent is disturbing, and no doubt will be challenged for years to come.

So part one was successful. ZM was tied to 9/11. The jury decided he was eligible for the death penalty based on this bizarre conviction. Now they just had to push the jury to decide in favor of his execution. This is where the trial went over the edge from bizarre right into horrorshow.

The prosecutors showed video of people jumping from the World Trade Center and hitting the ground. People on fire. Body parts in the street. They played the cockpit recording from Flight 93, the final moments of 40 people's lives who fought to save the U.S. Capitol or the White House from catastrophe. Giuliani was called upon to describe his personal anguish as a witness to the WTC attacks. Phone calls were replayed. Countless ghoulish scenes of death and chaos were shown. Tears were shed by nearly everyone in the courtroom.

"That was a man on fire as he fell through the canopy. Those are the remains of his body," Rosbrook testified in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

And yet the jury refused to execute Moussaoui. When the prosecution mounted an all-out blitz of horror to push the jury to their emotional limit, they maintained their humanity and spared Moussaoui's life. He will not be released, of course - he spends the rest of his life in prison, and will die a tired old man instead of a martyr.

On NPR this morning, I heard that Moussaoui claimed that the United States had lost, because they weren't able to get an execution. When we have a system that cheers murder as justice, when someone like Moussaoui practically begged to be executed by America's hand, and the jury was still able to hold onto their decency, I think the opposite is true. I feel pride today for those twelve jurors, our representatives of justice and, amazingly, of mercy.

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