This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“America you lost. I won!” shouted Zacarias Moussaoui after an Alexandria, Va., jury rejected the death penalty for his admitted role in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Some may interpret that remark as self vindication, but what if it has another meaning? Could he have meant that the United States has lost its sense of justice and that the verdict was an example of the moral squishiness that Islamofascists believe characterizes so much of this country?
If that is what he meant, he has ample evidence to believe it based on forms filled out by the jurors, which included “mitigating factors” that led them to reject the death penalty in favor of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Nine of the 12 jurors said that Moussaoui’s “unstable early childhood and dysfunctional family” resulted in his having a home life without structure and emotional and financial support and his hostile relationship with his mother eventually led to him being placed in an orphanage.
There are plenty of people with similar “dysfunctional” backgrounds, but they do not plot to assassinate innocent civilians in pursuit of a creed that has as its ultimate objective world domination and the death or subjugation of all with different faiths and political points of view.
Some of the relatives of those who died on 9/11 took solace that the Colorado prison to which Moussaoui will be assigned is no country club. He will be confined in a small cell with a toilet, a sink and a mattress for 23 hours a day. He will get one hour daily for “exercise,” which will consist of walking around in a cage. He can be denied television, newspapers and anything else prison officials wish to keep from him. Religious services will be piped in over a speaker. He will not be allowed to associate with other inmates.
That Moussaoui will suffer for decades and possibly lose his mind, as some have done in similar circumstances, does not speak to the justice issue.
If I steal and wreck your car and am forced to pay a fine to the state and/or serve time in jail, is that justice? No, it would be justice if I were forced to buy you a new car, pay a fine to you and then possibly serve time in jail. That’s called restitution and it is the only proper way to assure justice for the victim.
It is the same with murder. Depriving one of liberty who has taken a life, or many lives, does not register on the justice meter. If human life has the highest value (and that is debatable, given how it is treated), then the only way to validate its worth is to deprive one who takes it of his or her own life. That used to be known as the doctrine of “just desserts” before we entered into what C.S. Lewis called “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.”
This trial should have been held in a military court, not a civilian one. Civilians are more likely to be stricken with a malady I call Oprah disease, which is all about feelings and little about objective truth. This malady affects every layer of public and private life. That a majority of jurors concluded that Moussaoui should not be executed because he had a difficult childhood was famously mocked by Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics in the musical “West Side Story.” One of the gang members says, “Hey, I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.”
So, Moussaoui may have been right. He did win, in a sense, by again exposing America’s soft moral underpinnings. Moussaoui deserved death. That he won’t get it deprives him of justice. He will never have liberty again, but those whose deaths he plotted and rejoiced over will never have life again either. That isn’t justice. It isn’t even fair.