Moussaoui verdict: who won?

It has now been reported everywhere that Zacarias Moussaoui, upon being sentenced by a federal jury to life imprisonment, shouted, “America, you lost… I won!” Obviously, he had been rehearsing the line for months, and was prepared to use it regardless of the sentence. Actually, the jury’s rejection of the death penalty was a victory for the best values of the United States, and a defeat for the forces of pathological polarization, whether of the GWOT or jihad variety. The symbiotic, even incestuous relationship between al-Qaeda and the White House is illustrated (once again) by the fact that both Moussaoui and federal prosecutors were pulling for the death penalty: Moussaoui to finally acheive the glorious martyrdom he was cheated out of; Bush and the Justice Department to establish a precedent for a capital sentence in a terrorism case.

The point is made eloquently today in a refreshing column for Bloomberg (of all places) by Ann Woolner:

According to Zacarias Moussaoui’s reasoning (such as it is), he won and America lost when a Virginia jury spared his life. At least, that is what he shouted when led from the courtroom after the verdict was read.

It is true that Justice Department lawyers tried and failed to convince the jury that Moussaoui deserved to die. Moussaoui’s defense did indeed win on that point.

The U.S. won the more important victory. Jurors showed that, in a civilized nation where law reigns over savagery, the government must prove to 12 people that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused should die.

They demonstrated that citizens will spend days sifting through evidence and examining their consciences to reach the right decision. They showed that the urge for vengeance doesn’t always trump a rational assessment of the evidence.

And most of all, the U.S. won by showing that ordinary people have the power to say to the national government: No, you are wrong.


President George W. Bush hinted at lopsided justice when he said that, in letting Moussaoui live, jurors did “something that he evidently wasn’t willing to do for innocent Americans.”

And yet, the fact that jurors showed a greater respect for fairness and for human life than Moussaoui is cause for celebration, not chagrin.

The shame of the Moussaoui case isn’t the verdict but the fact that it’s the only time the administration has trusted a Sept. 11-related case to the court system.

Other men captured and suspected of serious roles in planning the attacks have been secretly held in countries where torture is allowed. In that, America loses.

And it’s not just the Sept. 11 suspects being denied due process. This administration has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to promote the losing argument that people believed to have sided with the Taliban can be kept behind bars for years at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge, without lawyers, without due process.

In fact, when it comes to the war on terror, this administration’s lawyers have twisted longstanding law to fit whatever it is the president wants to do, whether it’s tapping Americans’ phone lines without court approval or inventing a defense for torture.

In Moussaoui’s case, too, the administration overreached. Even as evidence mounted that he was deeply disturbed and an unlikely al-Qaeda operative, even when the strongest accusation the government could charge was that he didn’t warn authorities about Sept. 11 plans when he was arrested the month before, even when Moussaoui pleaded guilty, the Justice Department insisted on seeking his death at an enormously expensive and traumatic trial.


Moussaoui will spend the rest of his life isolated from all but the most minimal human contact, living in the nation’s toughest prison. There he will be largely forgotten, having lost an audience for his anti-American babble.

That’s hardly a victory for Moussaoui.

As for who won, a Sept. 11 widow, Rosemary Dillard, put it this way when speaking to reporters after the verdict.

“He’s a bad man,” she said. “But we have a fair society here.”

At least, in this case we do.

This also illustrates how the Administration cycnically exploits 9-11 survivors for political aims. But, unfortunately for the White House, the 9-11 survivors aren’t such a monolithically reactionary and bloodthirsty lot after all. Wrote Newsday in its May 4 analysis of what went wrong with the federal government’s case for a death sentence:

More than three dozen victims’ relatives appeared as prosecution witnesses and poured out their grief. That got most of the publicity. Thirteen appeared as defense witnesses to say hope, not vengeance, was the way to honor the dead. It didn’t get the press, but it gave jurors a pass to let Moussaoui off.

Newsday also notes that Moussaoui will likely be headed to the maxi-maxi federal lockup at Florence, CO, where he will join such luminaries as Omar “The Blind Sheikh” Abdel-Rahman, Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski, Matthew “World Church of the Creator” Hale, Richard “Shoebomber” Reid, 1993 WTC blast fall-guy Ramzi Yousef, Oklahoma City blast co-conspirator Terry Nichols, Medellin Cartel hitman Dandeny Munoz-Mosquera and Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph.

Have fun, Moussaoui.

See our last post on the strange case of Zacarias Moussaoui.