On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I called my brother Ken, who at the time was working in New Jersey and could see the plume rising from downtown Manhattan. Ken is a singularly thoughtful person, with a bit of a pacifist streak, who nonetheless knows how to deal with bullies. I have seen him angry and would not want to go up against him when exercised.
That day he told me that he wanted blood. I agreed. I had spent the morning watching the television with my coworkers, as our manager frantically tried to find out what was happening with our young colleagues at the WTC. We had all been sent home, and I was sitting on my sofa, flipping through the channels, making and taking phone calls. Ken and I have since disagreed, sometimes very emotionally, about how to collect that blood, but that is more about strategy than intention.
Putting Zacarias Moussaoui to death isn't the way.
I have read reactions to the decision of the jury to sentence this lunatic to life in prison, and they repeat much all the same sentiments. He was the only person charged, he admitted to planning the attacks, he prayed for more attacks, he mocked the victims, he went to flight school, had the FBI been able to search his computer, the attacks could have been stopped. What I have not seen is proof that he was anything more than a fringe-dweller, whatever his delusions of grandeur.
In America, we do not kill people for wanting us dead. We may jail them, lock them away until their minds and bodies have been eaten away by time and madness, but we leave the ultimate verdict for action, not intention.
I know the argument on this matter, that this is war, and we don't take care with combatants' mindsets in war. However, we also take prisoners whose task is to kill us. We do not summarily execute when we have little reason to.
I don't care about Moussaoui's life. And I am not particularly squeamish about the death penalty. But for death to have meaning, it must be reserved. Moussaoui did not fly planes, although he wanted to. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that Moussaoui was too crazy even for al Qaeda, or that, having been made prior to the attacks, couldn't participate in them. And that is why the verdict came down as it did.
All other arguments are understandably emotional reactions to that day, but certain things have been proved.
We are a nation of law, and justice, by definition, has been done. Moussaoui's blood is a proxy for that blood we wanted that day, but it isn't the right blood to take. Moussaoui's blood is an empty symbol that would have satisfied temporarily, but would have extracted a higher price from all of us. Better that American justice has demonstrated that it can discern the levels of guilt and complicity, that presidents do not dictate to courts, that we do not kill indiscriminately.
I understand the anger, but this articulates an assumption that feels comforting, but is misguided:
There is only one justifiable reason for a juror to make this choice. That juror has to believe the death penalty is wrong under any and all circumstances. To imagine that there can be any mitigating circumstance regarding Moussaoui's actual guilt is moral idiocy of the highest order.
This statement is supremely nonsensical. This isn't the only reason to arrive at this verdict, although that may be why Moussaoui now will spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement instead of being sent off to a sleepy death. No one, save those in perpetual denial, has any questions as to Moussaoui's guilt. It is what punishment does that guilt deserve?
If we will not be a nation that publicly metes out exact punishment for exact crimes, if we will not take Moussaoui to a public square and set him on fire, so that he may enjoy a similar experience as his proposed victims, we must set standards and rely on law.
I still want blood, and wish that America had leadership that undertsood how to be violent and calculating, instead of just violent. The jury in this case understood this concept, and America was served by the right verdict.