Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Will Moussaoui Get to See His Virgins?

I don't get the Moussaoui trial. Actually, to put it more bluntly, I don't get the government's case in trying to put the so-called "20th hijacker" to death.

The whole story goes, if Mr. Moussaoui had told the truth, then the government would have stoppped the plot and 3,000 people wouldn't have died.

That makes no sense to me. The government couldn't do its job because of some crazy Frenchman?

It seems to me that the 9/11 commission showed the government failed to do its job. This doesn't make Moussaoui or the other hijackers or even bin Laden are innocent, they are not. But it's not the government's job to rely only on the testimony of one lunatic; they are supposed to do their job and put all the pieces together.

In light of yesterday's testimony by Moussaoui that pretty much signed his death warrant, the Los Angeles Times urges in today's editorial that the French Muslim shouldn't be excuted for more than simple humanitarian reasons:

Would-be suicide jihadists want to die in their struggle against us in the deluded belief that God will reward their murderous cowardice. Once they are in our custody, they lose the power to achieve that goal. Capital punishment gives them the martyrdom they crave, making them symbols of sacrifice to would-be followers rather than powerless, humiliated prisoners passing the decades alone and increasingly forgotten in a cell.

More important, if Moussaoui is indeed an important cog in a broad conspiracy, then he certainly has information that could potentially be useful both in further Sept. 11 investigations and in our fight against Al Qaeda, whether now or in 10 years. We may or may not get this information from him if he lives, although life in prison is a very long time. But we will certainly not get it from him if he dies.

All good points that I agree with. Moussaoui gave his jaw-dropping testimony yesterday because he wants be killed by US government and become known as a martyr. Why should we give that? Why should we play into the hands of bin Laden and his ilk by using Moussaoui's death as recruitment tool? It's better to let him spend the rest his life in a cell, where he is out of sight and also out of mind.

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick brings up another point that has bothered me about this case. The belief that Moussaoui's death would bring "closure" to those who were affected by 9/11. Closure has become the pop culture belief that some event will basically end all the saddness.

Let me share a short story. It was 13 years ago this week, my grandmother died. She died unexpectantly of a stroke while my mother watached. My mother was devasted. Nevermind that my grandmother was 90; my mother saw her mother die in front of her. What I saw from that experience is that grief doesn't just go for a while and end. Instead it continues for a long time. My mother has learned to live with her saddness, but there was no closure or getting over this. How the hell could you "get over" losing a parent? If that's hard, then is it even possible to offer "closure" to someone saw a loved one leave for work on that September day five years ago and never came back?

The government is offering victims a cheap thrill instead of helping them cope with their loss. These people won't "get over" the loss of their loved ones, and even Moussaoui's death won't make things better for them either. There will still be hurt and anger and saddness and to think killing some nut is going to magically make people better is just plain wrong.

I'm all for justice and for punishing Moussaoui. I just don't think we should be giving into a madman's desire for martyrdom or trying to give vicitim's family a band aid to ease their pain.


Van Appleton said...

All good, practical reasons to put the guy away (assuming he's found guilty). But lest we make only utilitarian arguments, let's not forget that opposition to the death penalty is rooted in principle, that it violates human dignity (ours and his) and is offensive to all those who are completely pro-life.

Dyre42 said...

Martyrdom bad. However cryogenically freezing him for later execution may just the thing!

Shay said...

I agree that the government didn't do its job. Moussaoui should be put to death, because his crime is a capital one. I don't care if it is used as a recruitment tool, because him being in jail could be used for that purpose as well (as jihadists have done in other situations where their cohorts were in prison). There must be justice for the families of the 9/11 victims.

Mike said...

I agree with you, although what bothers me even more in this case is the implicit attack on the fifth amendment. Essentially, the prosecution is arguing that Mr. Moussaoui deserves to die because he did not self-incriminate. But if our right to not self-incriminate is to mean anything, surely we have to be protected from the consquences of keeping our mouths shut.

Ruth Henriquez said...

That's a good point about "closure." Moving on is a transition and has to happen within ourselves; resolution cannot be "applied" by some outside agent.

I'd be interested to hear your ideas about the death penalty in general sometime. . . What does killing a murderer accomplish, aside from saving the state the cost of his upkeep? Is the idea of revenge killing plausible in a "civilized" state?