April 23, 2005

Moussaoui pleads guilty, but why are we treating him like a 'criminal'?

Finally, a conviction stemming from 9/11. Unfortunately we don't need convictions. One of the reasons suicidal terrorists are so vexing is that, well, they are suicidal. If death has no deterrent effect, why would a jail sentence?

Treating terrorism as an ordinary crime makes no sense to me. What should we do to Moussaoui? I've no idea. But sending the man to jail just doesn't sit right.

Death penalty? Maybe. But even that is a punishment for a crime. Again, it's the language of the criminal justice system. As long as we use that language we are trapped in the sort of thinking that led to 9/11.

What we need is a new vocabulary to describe what should be done to terrorists who are caught. What that language should be is not quite clear.

The Global War on Terror rhetoric is a little more satisfying. If this is war then Moussaoui is an illegal enemy combatent. Caught without a uniform behind enemy lines, engaged in the plotting of acts of sabatoge, Moussaui would be subject to execution. But still, there is something missing here that I can't quite get my finger on......

The outcome of treating Moussaoui as a criminal or as an illegal combatent might be the same in both cases. However, the language we use matters. If he is to be killed, let it be by firing squad or at the end of a hangman's noose. He is not a criminal, he's worse. Let's treat him as such.

I'm not 100% sure how to describe a terrorist plotter like Moussaui, but there is something essentially wrong with the dialogue below. The back and forth as if Moussaui was an ordinary criminal who's rights must be protected at all costs. The judge covers all his bases so that Moussaoui will have no grounds for appeal.



Moussaoui, looking nothing like his ubiquitous prison photo, took a seat, then walked to the podium to answer the judge's queries.

"You understand that all answers to this court's questions must be truthful?" U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema began, the first of many questions in one of the most extraordinary pleas in U.S. history. "It is understood," Moussaoui said in a thick French accent.

"You are aware that the first four counts essentially expose you to the possibility of a death sentence . . . ?" Brinkema asked.

"Yes, I read the document."

"Now, you do understand that you have the right to plead not guilty . . . ?" the judge asked.

"I do understand that," Moussaoui said, and on it went, questions as mundane as whether Moussaoui understood that he would be fined $600, and as grave as whether he was part of a terrorist conspiracy to attack the United States. At one point, Moussaoui said he planned to fly a 747 into the White House one day.

The dialogue between the two swung from cordial to combative to darkly humorous. Brinkema asked if Moussaoui understood that he was not giving up certain rights in the sentencing phase by pleading guilty. "That's what I'm saying," Moussaoui said. "That's what I'm saying, too," Brinkema said. Some people in the courtroom laughed.

At 3:50 p.m., Moussaoui began signing the documents that made formal his guilty plea. Peterson leaned in closer to see.

Then Brinkema began reading the six counts in the indictment, asking Moussaoui after each how he pleaded. "Guilty," he said over and over. "Guilty."

After making a byzantine argument about his case -- he cited Supreme Court cases, legal loopholes and mitigating factors -- Moussaoui was led from the courtroom. He raised one hand and shouted, "Lord! God curse America!"

The California Yankee has more, including some of the indictment itself.

UPDATE: I just had to include Will Collier's reaction that, "The needle is too good for him". Indeed.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 08:29 AM | Comments |