Cleburne Times-Review Column for 7 May, 2006
“Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.”
And so Zacarias Moussaoui, pathetic, bumbling terrorist wannabe, will not spend the next several years in the news as his death sentence appeal grinds its way through the courts. Instead, he will quietly and anonymously rot in a federal prison in Colorado, forgotten and ignored by the nation he despises. “America, you lost…I won!” the man who was apparently considered a nuisance by Al Qaida shouted as he was trundled out of court. But in this (doubtless the same insipid slogan he would have yelled if the jury had given him the needle), as in almost everything else, Moussaoui was wrong. First, I’m sure this shambling loser who was too incompetent to actually carry out a terrorist attack would have much preferred the death penalty, a martyr’s death. In the twisted snake-pit of what passes for Moussaoui’s mind, he no doubt sees himself as an inspirational figure, much like another self-important worm, Timothy McVeigh, who believed that blowing up children in Oklahoma City would ignite a race war. Second, Moussaoui was wrong because, regardless of whether his wasted life is ended earlier by lethal injection or later by old age in the penitentiary, the trial he worked so hard to sabotage proved that our system, the system of secular democracy and the rule of law, is superior to the medieval theocratic fascist dictatorship dreamed of by Al Qaida. In how many other nations on Earth, much less the Middle East, would someone accused of Moussaoui’s crimes been given even a show trial, much less a fair trial, with court-appointed counsel and an impartial jury? How many countries, faced with a 9-11 style attack, would merely have rounded up the usual suspects and had a private or public mass execution? No, this trial was as important in some ways as the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi war criminals at the end of the Second World War, because this trial, like Nuremburg, shows that the law is more powerful than the savagery of those on trial.
There was quite a bit of pontificating by the talking heads when the Moussaoui trial started about how the US criminal justice system couldn’t “handle” prosecuting terrorists. It was claimed that Moussaoui couldn’t be tried without revealing sensitive intelligence data. It was claimed that Moussaoui’s outlandish behavior would make it impossible to make it to verdict. John Kerry was mocked for allegedly wanting to treat terrorism as a “criminal justice” matter instead of a war. Better to go with the Bush Administration’s plan where anyone deemed an “enemy combatant” by the President, even American citizens arrested on American soil, could be locked up for the rest of their lives, subjected to torture, and never given access to the courts, a lawyer or even their families. These critics, too, were all wrong. Moussaoui got his fair trial, in spite of himself. Judge Leonie Brinkema, in sharp contrast to the feckless Judge Lance Ito during the OJ Simpson trial, kept her cool and kept her court under control. Neither Moussaoui’s rants, nor the government giving into the temptation to try to stack the deck, rattled her for long. Moussaoui’s court-appointed defense lawyers, led by Gerald Zerkin, ably defended their client, often against his wishes. In short, the system worked.
Would I have preferred to see this waste of oxygen executed? You better believe it. Moussaoui is a vicious contemptible thug, a pure sociopath with a fanatic’s utter disregard for human life, even his own. While he may have only been tagging along for 9-11, it was clear he knew of the plot, and he allowed it to happen; indeed, he was its’ ghoulish cheerleader. That makes him an accessory and as deserving of execution as the vermin who piloted the planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Having said that, though, I can also imagine what the jury might have been thinking, and they may have intended a particularly brutal final insult. Moussaoui portrayed himself, after several years of denial, as some sort of a criminal terrorist mastermind. He claimed that he and the equally pathetic “shoe bomber” Richard Reid were supposed to crash into the White House on September 11, 2001. On the stand, he gloated over the pain of the 9-11 victims’ families and boasted of his desire to kill more Americans. In response, though, maybe, just maybe the jury was trying to show how little they thought of his empty braggadocio. Moussaoui is no mastermind. He hasn’t the brain pan to organize his sock drawer, much less a vast criminal conspiracy like 9-11. He, the jury seemed to be saying, is just some pathetic loser who hates America, who hates the modern world, and thinks he’s a big shot. He is not worthy of our contempt. He is beneath our notice. Let him rot in his prison cell, alone with his own twisted thoughts. No one, not even other terrorists, will ever mourn him. His name will not be celebrated as some martyr to the glorious jihad against the Great Satan. Instead, he will return to the obscurity he so richly deserves.
The rule of law in America has survived civil war, depressions, anti-communist witch hunts, world wars and politicians who would cast it aside as an inconvenience. Now, Zacarias Moussaoui, whether he realizes it or not, has proved that the rule of law is more powerful than terrorism as well. He proved that the country and the system he hates, while flawed, are still infinitely preferable to all the alternatives. If there’s any justice, he’ll be thinking about that, as well as the innocent lives lost to his brand of blind hatred, as he slowly wastes away in his cell.