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Moussaoui's So-Called Life
By James Taranto
May 4, 2006

Unlike Andrew Sullivan's blog, this column does not advocate torturing 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. But we would have liked to have seen him put to death, for reasons Peggy Noonan outlines:

This is what Moussaoui did: He was in jail on a visa violation in August 2001. He knew of the upcoming attacks. In fact, he had taken flight lessons to take part in them. He told no one what was coming. He lied to the FBI so the attacks could go forward. He pled guilty last year to conspiring with al Qaeda; at his trial he bragged to the court that he had intended to be on the fifth aircraft, which was supposed to destroy the White House.

He knew the trigger was about to be pulled. He knew innocent people had been targeted, and were about to meet gruesome, unjust deaths.

He could have stopped it. He did nothing. And so 2,700 people died.

The Wall Street Journal makes some cogent points as well:

The trial also underscored the limits of the criminal justice system as a tool of war. Moussaoui was charged in December 2001, so disposing of the case took nearly 4 1/2 years. For a time he represented himself, turning the courtroom into a circus. Later his court-appointed attorneys demanded to put detained al Qaeda leaders on the stand. The Supreme Court said no, but there's no guarantee that future prosecutors won't be forced to choose between revealing national-security secrets in open court and letting a terrorist go free. While the courts--which must also deal with ordinary crime--can handle one Moussaoui circus, hundreds of such cases could cripple the justice system.

Then there are the "mitigating factors" that led the jury to reject death. According to news reports, three of the 12 jurors agreed that Moussaoui, of Moroccan ethnicity, "was subject to racism as a child" in his native France. Nine jurors agreed that "Moussaoui's father had a violent temper and physically and emotionally abused his family." America is at war with a relentless enemy, which observes no rules of war and wantonly murders innocent civilians. Fretting over whether enemy agents had dysfunctional childhoods is no way to win that war.

As he was leaving court after the jury announced its decision, Moussaoui declared, "America, you lost." This morning, at his formal sentencing, Judge Leonie Brinkema answered:

"Mr. Moussaoui, when this proceeding is over, everyone else in this room will leave to see the sun . . . hear the birds . . . and they can associate with whomever they want," she said.

She went on: "You will spend the rest of your life in a supermax prison. It's absolutely clear who won."

And she said it was proper he will be kept away from outsiders, unable to speak publicly again.

"Mr. Moussaoui, you came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory," she said, "but to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper."

At that point, Moussaoui tried again to interrupt her, but she raised her voice and spoke over him.

"You will never get a chance to speak again and that's an appropriate ending."

"French authorities said Thursday they may eventually press the United States to have Moussaoui serve his life sentence in France under two conventions on the transfer of convicts," the Associated Press reports. Somehow we doubt the French will have their way, but it's another reason to be sorry the jury decided against capital punishment.

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