It was a nice try, but no cigar for trying to get the death penalty
for Zaccharias Moussaoui, the 37-year-old French Moroccan, would-be lone goat
to stand trial for the entire 9/11 massacre. Instead, to the prosecution’s
chagrin, Moussaoui received life, that is, in the maximum security prison in
Florence, Colorado. And just a word about that life . . .
Slow Rot at Supermax
In an article, The
Slow Rot at Supermax—At Moussaoui’s future home . . . inmates are
reportedly not merely punished, but incapacitated and broken down, Richard
A. Serrano, the ever right-wing news boy of the LA Times delivers this
tale on May 5 with relish.
“’On bombers row,’ Moussaoui will find, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef,
mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center blast; Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski;
Terry L. Nichols, an accomplice in the Oklahoma City bombing; Richard
Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who Moussaoui testified was to join him in
another Al Qaeda hijacking; and Eric Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics
and the Atlanta Olympics.” Sounds like stimulating company to me.
”All, like Moussaoui, are serving life without parole -- spending their
days in prison wings that are partly underground. They exist alone in soundproof
cells as small as 7 feet by 12 feet, with a concrete-poured desk, bed and
stool, a small shower and sink, and a TV that offers religious and anger-management
programs. They are locked down 23 hours a day.” Ah, so it’s a
humanitarian setting, designed to ameliorate the alienated.
”Larry Homenick, a former U.S. marshal who has taken prisoners to Supermax,
said that there was a small triangular recreation area, known as ‘the
dog run,’ where solitary Supermax prisoners could occasionally get a
glimpse of sky.” Nothing like a glimpse of sky.
”He said it was chilling to walk down the cellblocks and glance through
the plexiglass ‘sally port’ chambers into the cells and see the
faces inside. Life there is harsh. Food is delivered through a slit in the
cell door. Prisoners don't leave their cells to see a lawyer, a doctor or
a prison official; those visitors must go to the cell.” Serves them
right, right? Or what?
And just when I thought, America’s justice system got a life-giving shot
in the arm for playing by the rules, i.e., you don’t kill a guy (Moussaoui)
for lying to the FBI. But maybe letting him rot is not that bad.
Yet Serrano reports, “There is no pretense that the prison is preparing
the inmate for a return to society. Like the cellmate of the count of Monte
Cristo who died an old, tired convict . . . ‘Moussaoui will deteriorate.’”
Which is something we in the land of the free should hope for, right? No? And,
“The inmate is constantly monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week
. . ." Perhaps there’s a little more Moussaouian
Candidate biz that can be squeezed out of him.
So too, “Christopher Boyce, a convicted spy who was incarcerated at Supermax,
left the prison about 100 miles south of Denver with no regret.” He said,
“You're slowly hung . . . You're ground down. You can barely keep your
sanity.’" Bernard Kleinman, a New York lawyer who represented Yousef,
called it "extraordinarily draconian punishment."
Ron Kuby, another New York defense lawyer . . . thought Aiken's description
that prisoners rot inside its walls was too kind. "It's beyond rotting
. . . Rotting at least implies a slow, gradual disintegration . . . But Supermax
is worse . . . It's not just the hothouse for the mushrooms. It's designed in
the end to break you down." All right, and just when I thought we were
doing good things. But, lest I forget, before that came . . .
The Prosecution’s Bag of Tricks
The prosecution’s not-so-nice try for lethal injection included an over-zealous
federal lawyer named Carla J. Martin of the Transportation Security Administration,
who early in the trial was sending instructional emails and transcripts to the
jury, an effort Judge Leonie Brinkema labeled “the most egregious”
attempt to tamper with a jury she had ever seen in her years on the bench.
The prosecution’s try also included dragging in ex-New York Mayor Rudy
Giuliani to plead for the lethal injection death based on his experience with
the horror of 9/11. See my OJ article Rudy
Giuliani slavering witness for Moussaoui prosecution on that debacle.
His testimony didn’t include pre-event awareness of 9/11, his knowledge
of terror drills to occur on 9/11, FEMA’s presence in New York City on
9/10, and of his Command Post in Tower 7 to be “pulled” on 9/11
(the real reason he was wandering around the streets). To see him parading in
Iowa recently, now slavering for the GOP primary and presidency gives me chills.
The prosecution try, under the direction of President Bush and Deputy Atty.
Gen Paul J. McNulty, also included dragging in some 35 witnesses from victims’
families to recount their personal loss and pain as a result of 9/11, revealing
how little all these poor people had seen or learned about all of the information
of a larger conspiracy conducted by the government in carrying out this atrocity.
I mentioned that in “Painwashing
the Moussaoui Jury and us,” also in Online Journal.
Fortunately, the defense presented 24 witnesses who gave similar recollections
of family grief and pain but did not call for vengeance or the death sentence.
In fact, I believe some of America’s finest hours in the past five awful
years live in these witnesses’ testimony.
The Tab for “Closure”
And, after all was said and done, over the seven weeks of trial, after the
millions of taxpayer dollars and four years spent pursuing the death sentence,
the prosecution had to settle for the life sentence, which Moussaoui would have
agreed to at the start, for nothing. Consider that waste as typical of the waste
of lives, money, and every imaginable resource this administration consumes.
As to closure, which seems to mean the satisfaction this man was going to die,
the families didn’t receive that either, but I’m sure Supermax will
come close. Given Moussaoui’s own four-year ordeal, he clapped his hands
after the verdict, shouting, “America, you lost! David Novak [one of the
prosecutors], you lost! I won!” Bottom line, we created an even angrier,
more committed adversary than we started with, a paradigm for our behavior with
the Muslim world in general. And where will that take us as we rattle nuclear
sabers at Iran and they rattle back?
In fact, I modestly propose that if we hadn’t been in search of the traditional
for a cosmic event such as 9/11, this whole ugly affair could have been
avoided and Moussaoui would have been quietly serving his sentence all along.
This trial, and I’m sure the off-stage, off-camera, under the clothing
tortures, forced him to dig in his heels deeper as it forced his death-seekers
to do the same, another paradigm to consider, as in Iraq.
But then the government had to blame someone. Osama was nowhere to
be found to confess. Certainly Bush, Cheney, Rice, et al, won’t confess,
at least till the evidence propounded by 9/11 scholars has sunk deeply enough
into the cognitive dissonant skull of America.
The upside seemed to be that the US District Federal Court in Virginia worked
with a decent efficiency. And Judge Leonie Brinkema seemed committed to seeing
justice done and not the fulfillment of mere bloodlust. She seemed to perform
with grace under what must have been great pressure from the top down. At least
until the sentencing debacle, when she invited family members to comment directly
to Moussaoui. (See One
Last Appearance and Outburst , From Moussaoui by Neil A. Lewis, New York
Times, May 4.)
Afterwards, perhaps smarting from Moussaoui’s “America you lost,
I won,” Brinkema said, “Well, Mr. Moussaoui, if you look around
this courtroom today, every person in this room when this proceeding is over
will leave . . . they are free to go anyplace, they want. They can go outside,
feel the sun, they smell fresh air.”
But, she said, “You will spend the rest of our life in a super-maximum
security facility. In terms of winners and losers, it’s quite clear who
won and who lost.” Now, was that high ground she’d been occupying
for seven weeks? We didn’t think he was going off to play cricket. And
there I was, thinking what a great Supreme Court Justice she would make.
And then Brinkema giving the misinformed Rosemary Dillard, Lisa Dolan and Abraham
Scott, whose spouses perished at the Pentagon, free pot shots at Moussaoui was
cheap in the extreme. Yet in my humble estimation, he answered with amazing
clarity and dignity, especially since his native language is French . . .
“The first one [Dillard] say that I destroy her life and she lost her
husband. Maybe one day she can think how many people the C.I.A. have
destroyed their life." Ahem, anyone like to add a volume or two to that?
To the second [Dolan], he commented Americans had "an amount of hypocrisy
which is beyond any belief," adding, "Your humanity is a very selected
humanity -- only you suffer, only you feel.” Could that possibly be, that
we Americans don’t grasp the full impact of how various peoples of the
world suffer, even from our multinational corporate government’s direct
Surprisingly, when Robert A. Spencer, the chief prosecutor, claimed that it
was inappropriate for Mr. Moussaoui to make a political speech, Judge Brinkema
agreed. Perhaps she didn’t want to be seen as “soft on terror.”
But Mr. Moussaoui went on to say, “You have branded me a terrorist or
criminal. In fact, I am a soldier in the Islamic cause, and I fight for my belief."
So be it.
He went on to say, as Lewis reported, that “Americans had forfeited an
opportunity to use the trial to discover why people like himself and Mohammed
Atta, the [purported] pilot of one of the hijacked planes of Sept.
11, ‘have so much hatred for you.’” Does it seem like there’s
any grain of truth in that? That for many this was a lynching party, not a search
for the truth beyond the 9/11 mythology and Muslim demonizing.
What the Jury Really Saw and Said
It is interesting that the jurors were most affected by the facts of Moussaoui’s
awful childhood, the years spent in orphanages, a physically and psychologically
abusive alcoholic father and the racism he met as a youth in France. In spite
of this, Moussaoui still immigrated to London to earn a master’s degree
in business. This ironic “American Dream” quality of overcoming
obstacles seemed to have struck a chord with jurors.
There was also empathy in the jury’s vision of Moussaoui as a marginal
character in the 9/11 disaster, a role inflated by his prosecutors, and subsequently
himself. In short, the 12 human beings seemed to see his humanity, and subsequently
exercised their own. They didn’t label him “a schizophrenic,”
a disease from which two of his sisters suffer. They didn’t think he was
seeking martyrdom in death or the completion of his “jihad.”
Nor could the panel decide unanimously that Moussaoui caused the nearly 3,000
deaths. Nor could they agree that he committed his crimes “in an especially
heinous, cruel or depraved manner.” In fact, three jurors wrote on their
own that Moussaoui had “limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans.”
The actions of this judge (before her sentencing lapses) and jury give me hope
that the flame of justice still flickers in America and its people, in spite
of the many attempts of this government to snuff it out entirely.
In short, the whole faux plan to paint blood on Moussaoui’s hands fell
apart in this trial, and the blood spills in the direction of the White House,
at least for anyone who has taken the time to follow the stream of blood, money,
violence and corruption, of death trying to triumph over life on 9/11 and beyond.
Closing Bon Mots from Our Leader
After the sentencing, George W. Bush said, “Mr. Moussaoui got a fair
trial . . . they spared his life, which is something he evidently wasn’t
willing to do for innocent American citizens.” One, to my knowledge, Moussaoui
personally killed no one, which is why he wasn’t executed.
Second, perhaps Bush wants to avert attention from all those others held at
Guantanamo and secret prisons around the world as enemy combatants with no right
to legal representation, trial by jury, or knowledge of when they will be set
free or what they are officially charged with.
Bush also affirmed, “I know that it’s really important for the
United States to stay on the offense against these killers and bring them to
justice,” i.e. his post-9/11 War on Terror must continue, as
will the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan (is Iran next?) -- it’s oil business
as usual. And that’s a lot to swallow, especially at three bucks a gallon,
the price of a bankrupt economy and bankrupt moral vision.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer who lives in New York.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.