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Jury Right to Let Moussaoui Rot

By Froma Harrop

Don't kill Moussaoui. The jury was right about that.

Let me make myself clear. The world would in no way be diminished were Zacarias Moussaoui not in it. And the desire among Americans to execute someone for the 9-11 atrocity was understandable. But Moussaoui appeared to be more psycho than actively criminal. The exciters of public opinion wanted to emphasize the criminal, in which case, we could have stuck a lethal needle into his arm.

That's what Moussaoui wanted. He wanted to be immortalized as one of the devious masterminds behind the 9-11 attacks. The worst punishment we could have rendered was to declare Moussaoui a head case. Throw him in a dungeon, and lose the key. He is now on his way.

The jury that decided Moussaoui's fate had a somewhat different mission than those who fantasized about what they wanted to see happen. The jurors had to evaluate his claims that he knew in advance of the 9-11 plot. He had denied involvement for years and only recently stepped forward to take his place in the pantheon of jihadi terrorists.

Did he actually participate, or is he a mere braggart and very likely a head case? That's what the jury had to determine. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she doubted that Moussaoui was much privy to the 9-11 plans. (The deliberating jurors were unaware of her comments.) Establishing what Moussaoui knew was key to deciding whether he should die or spend life in prison.

It ought to be pretty clear by now that the threat of a publicized death is not a deterrent but a powerful incentive to Islamic terrorism. That's why prospective suicide bombers pose for photos before they blow up diners in Israeli pizzerias. They know that their portraits will appear on the front pages and newscasts of the world.

Moussaoui had gone out of his way to bait the jury into painting him as an evil genius. He claimed to have conspired with shoe bomber Richard Reid to fly another plane into the White House -- an especially ludicrous story. Would he have wanted to? Possibly, but he didn't.

But one could imagine the little creep having a fine time on death row. He'd be scribbling his final denunciations of the Zionist-Crusader blah blah blah to be sent by satellite to the globe's billions. A McVeigh-style execution extravaganza would have proven that he was a feared Islamic warrior -- rather than a loser and nut job with murderous thoughts.

Simple-minded commentators, who are legion, didn't get any of this. They attacked the testimony of the psychologist who opined that Moussaoui suffered from "schizophrenia of the paranoid variety." They bitterly resented talk of Moussaoui's abusive father and other torments. Why did that surprise them? Mohammed Atta and Timothy McVeigh also had tough childhoods and from all indications crossed wires in the brain. And they were not the first terrorists to dignify their mental instability by attaching it to a political philosophy.

Unlike Atta and McVeigh, however, it was unclear whether Moussaoui did what he said he did. Regardless, if we want to deter their like from carrying out mass murder, we have to ask ourselves this: Are we better off giving them the punishment we would dread or the punishment they would dread?

I always thought the best way of cutting Moussaoui down to size would have been to declare him mentally incompetent. I'm not saying that Moussaoui, even if his claims of being a player in 9-11 were made up, had any business walking among free people. A life of obscurity behind bars was the minimum for him.

The senior counsel to the 9-11 commission, John Farmer, had feared that "through a perverse confluence," the government might advance "Moussaoui's interest in becoming something in death that he never was in life -- important." He further felt that the heartbreaking testimony of the 9-11 victims would have been better saved for "a more culpable defendant." Farmer understood.

So let's thank the jury for depriving Moussaoui of the glorious execution he yearned for. Instead, he'll be left to rot behind bars and die too old to enjoy the imagined virgins. That is the most appropriate punishment and also the best revenge.


Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

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