There was only one big news story on Wednesday, May 3, 2006, and that was reported succinctly for the next morning's papers - Jury Rejects Death Sentence for Moussaoui -
So he'll spend his days from now until he dies in that super-maximum security prison in Florence Colorado, near Denver, in solitary confinement.
Al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui will spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks after a federal jury rejected the government's four-year quest to secure his execution for the deadliest terrorist strike on U.S. soil.
After weeks of listening to harrowing testimony from 9/11 family members, hearing heartbreaking emergency calls and watching painful footage of victims jumping to their deaths, the anonymous jury of nine men and three women methodically deliberated for 41 hours over seven days before reaching its verdict yesterday.
Jurors carefully went over each question on a 42-page verdict form that gave only a few clues to their thoughts and reasoning. In the end, though, the form indicated that prosecutors could not surmount the main obstacle hanging over their case from the start: Moussaoui did not hijack anything Sept. 11, 2001, because he was sitting in jail.
The panel could not decide unanimously that Moussaoui caused the nearly 3,000 deaths, nor could it agree that he committed his crimes "in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner." Three jurors took it upon themselves to write that Moussaoui had "limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans."
"The jury seemed to be saying that he is a bit player, someone at the periphery," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corp. "It boils down to someone whose hands were not drenched in blood."
As the verdict was announced in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Moussaoui rolled his eyes and looked glum. But he yelled, "America, you lost... I won!" as he was escorted back to jail. Family members of Sept. 11 victims, who had long awaited this day, showed little visible reaction in the courtroom's third row.
And the four-year quest to have this guy executed, legally and all, not just taking him out back and beating him to death, and which seemed like a slam dunk, didn't work out. Of course when George Tenant was running the CIA he said the WMD proof was a slam dunk too. The administration is having one long run of bad breaks.
And of course the whole "quest" was set up to prove a number of things - that all the stuff about our secret prisons and holding people for years and years without charges, incommunicado, and holding some people we tell no one about, and all the business about "enhanced interrogations" that sure looks a lot like what everyone else in the world calls torture, and what happened at Abu Ghraib and at Guantánamo, and at Bagram and elsewhere, and those more than ninety "detainees" who might have known something and up and died on us while being questioned... well, this was to prove that we could play by the rules with the worst of the worst. All that other stuff really wasn't what we were about, really. So this guy wouldn't die mysteriously in custody as his organs failed. We'd get a jury of twelve to agree he should die, and prove we are neither sadistic nor lawless, at least in this case.
Additionally this was "red meat" politically. Every day since September 11, 2001, the administration had beat the drum - we should be very afraid, and should be very angry, except when we were told to just act normal and go shopping or visit Disneyworld with the kids. So deep-seated fear and blinding anger were "appropriate" - and, luckily, they had just what was needed to deal with those two overwhelming feelings - and told us anyone who loved this country had to feel fear and anger deeply, and anyone who was into thinking things through, and not that into "feelings" in and of themselves, hated America.
The answer to what we were told we were feeling? They'd help us with the fear by going after the "evil ones" to keep us safe, and we'd be glad to pay for the effort, and keep them in office, and they'd satisfy our anger and the ever-escalating craving for some sort of justice or vengeance that goes with anger - no one else could. They said that was obvious.
So getting permission to execute this guy, by the rules, would have been a two-for-one success. We'd prove to the world we are neither sadistic nor lawless, and win over the people who like thinking things through and playing by the rules - but too, this guy would die, proving the anger and fear from the other sort of folks, those who think careful thinking is stupid and rules now useless in this sorry world, could be relieved because the administration really knew what it was doing - getting the bad guys. They'd get their dead bad guy. The others would get a fancy pants trial, and what could they say to that?
Good plan. And this jury screwed it up -
Now no one's happy.
Some legal experts agreed that the case, and especially the jury's reluctance to impose a death sentence, had brought out the best of American justice, despite the complications. "No one can accuse this of being a kangaroo court or say Moussaoui was railroaded," Hoffman said.
But others said the verdict showed that the government had wasted years and millions of taxpayer dollars pursuing Moussaoui when prosecutors could have settled for a life sentence several years ago.
And you get this -
In short, he really was a bad man, but a nut-case, and almost certainly a wannabe who wasn't even in on most of what he said he was doing.
Jurors yesterday concluded unanimously that prosecutors had proved most of the aggravating factors, including that Moussaoui showed no remorse and that the Sept. 11 attacks caused vast damage in New York and Washington. Their reaction to the mitigating factors varied widely. Nine jurors agreed with the defense that Moussaoui's dysfunctional early childhood and abusive father were mitigating, but none found that executing Moussaoui would make him a martyr. No jurors agreed with the defense that a sentence of life in prison would be a greater punishment.
The administration spent four years going after the wrong guy. This fellow was a clown, a thoroughly evil clown, but a clown nonetheless. Save the death penalty for someone who actually did something.
Yep. This guy was convicted for what he didn't say, that, if he had said it to the feds, might have prevented the attacks almost four years ago, if the feds had done what they might have done, maybe (discussed previously here). Granted, the guys who did things are dead, but those who directed them to do what they did, and say so, like that elusive Osama bin Laden, can't be found for some reason.
So you spend four years trying to get the guy who just wished he had been in on the action but really wasn't? The legal strategy was odd - seeking the death penalty for the hypothetical - and the political calculation, one plotter is as good as any other and this guy will do, even odder.
What did the expect?
The reaction was immediate, like this from Roger Ailes (not the Roger Ailes who runs Fox News), predicting the "we want blood" side would be unhappy -
Would some very angry patriot use Google and find the addresses and phone numbers of the jurors and post them, so we'd get news stories of the jurors getting picked off by snipers, one by one, by those who love America and what it stands for? Michelle Malkin, one of the most influential writers on the right, recently, after the students up in Santa Cruz gave military recruiters a hard time, posted the home phone numbers of the students, and they did get death threats (discussed previously here). And she refused to take the numbers down, because everything has consequences, and some people don't like her, and such things happen.
So Zacarias Moussaoui, a loathsome man who likely would have participated in the 9/11 attacks but didn't have much, if anything, to do with them, but claimed he did, will be in prison for the rest of his life. And he won't be executed either.
Watch the wingnutosphere for demands for jury reform, elucidations of the President's Constitutional power to summarily execute criminal defendants regardless of judicial advisory opinions, Palovian droolings of the word dhimmitude and the home addresses and phone numbers of the jurors.
Jury duty has its dangers. And we're supposed to be afraid of the bad guys, and supposed to be very angry. It could happen. We'll see.
So how upset are people with all this? There's this at Cold Fury -
Wow. All that is now going to happen - and we should just give up and kill the lights and strike the America set, because this guy gets life without parole in solitary, not death from chemicals? This four-year-long fear and anger tactic has worked wonders. Karl Rove knows what he's doing.
This nation has now officially lost its way. We can't find the strength to fight a war wholeheartedly, as if victory mattered to us less than being thought well of by a viper's nest of cheap hoods, fainthearted Eurotrash Milquetoasts, and two-bit grifters; to be unequivocally proud of our country's history and its unique achievements; to allow ourselves to believe that we're in the right in a war we didn't initiate; to call treason by its right name; to boldly recognize and name our enemies; or to execute a plain-guilty terrorist who had planned to assist in the murder of thousands of us, via an act of war that has no parallel in the modern age for its sheer nihilistic savagery.
We are defeated.
This perfidious decision will be a bleak reminder to every strong, patriotic American for a very long time to come of the mindless decay that festers within our country, as Moussaoui's victorious partners in crime stage attack after attack to force our spineless "leaders" to release him. Hostages will be taken, embassies assaulted, innocent civilians attacked, all in support of this newly-created jailhouse hero - and we will do nothing of consequence in retaliation.
As for its impact on broader matters, we will lose the War on Terror (we're barely fighting it anyway, as the biggest and most notable consequence of our enervated Iran policy remains simple inertia), and we in our pathetic cowardice deserve to; as such, we never should have even attempted to fight back against our attackers in the first place. Our soldiers should be brought immediately home from the far-flung hellholes to which we've mistakenly sent them, with our abjectest apologies for daring to presume that their countrymen possessed the guts and the will to see the mission through. We conservatarians should join with liberals and demand that our "leaders" beg our Islamist conquerors for clemency immediately, and pray that we'll be allowed to live out our remaining time with some small shred of self-deceptive dignity intact.
Liberals will no doubt be delighted with the weakness and lack of resolve shown here, and will find plenty of progressivist rationalizations for praising the "humanity" and "forgiveness" shown by this sickening miscarriage of justice. For the rest of us, it's a black day indeed.
And too there's this at Nice Doggie -
Damn those savages. What can you do? No one wants to wipe out the savages any more.
All over the world, terrorists let out a sigh of relief, knowing that you can go to America, conspire to murder 3,000 innocent civilians, and still live out your days in greater comfort and luxury than their caves could ever afford them.
As Moussaoui was led away after the verdict, he shouted: "America, you lost!"
He's right, in a bigger sense than just the outcome of his trial where he was essentially pardoned for the murder of 3,000 innocents. We've lost our way. We've lost our will and ability to fight to WIN. We've lost our faith in ourselves and our belief in the righteousness of our cause. We've lost sight of the fact that this is a war that was forced upon us, a war fought by savages that deserve no consideration, no quarter and no mercy, a war that will not be won with kiddy gloves and a war that will not end until WE finish it, by whatever means necessary.
But at least we can tell ourselves over and over again that "we're so much better than them" when we're attacked the next time.
But comfort and luxury in Colorado? Maybe he knows something about the Florence facility no one else is revealing?
Dahlia Lithwick, the lawyer who is a senior editor for the Washington Post's SLATE.COM, in Complex Martyr, is just puzzled, and reviews the case out here in California where one Hamid Hayat was just convicted of offering material aid to al Qaeda.
The reports from that jury room had this drama -
That jury was more than a tad dysfunctional, but not this Moussaoui jury -
The angry racist foreman who was lobbying to "hang" the defendant from the get-go; the overly "sensitive" minorities who took umbrage at the foreman's suggestion that all Arabs look alike; the blatant violations of the rules against jurors learning of the case in the media; and the unremitting whining about the toll this jury service was taking on everyone's physical health, with clinical symptoms ranging from one juror's stress-related "drinking and overeating" to migraines.
So the government didn't get their scapegoat, and it seems this jury was "more subtle, and more courageous, than the prosecution itself."
The jury unanimously found two of three key aggravating factors to be true: that Moussaoui "knowingly created a grave risk of death" for innocent victims beyond just those who perished on Sept. 11, and that he committed his acts with "substantial planning." But in refusing to find what seemed the most obvious of the aggravating factors, that he "committed his crimes in an 'especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner'," or that Moussaoui - in jail on 9/11 - was responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths, the jurors seemed to be acknowledging that while Moussaoui wanted 9/11 to happen, wanted many more innocents to die, and that he plotted and planned for a future 9/11, he wasn't sufficiently central to this particular plot to be credited, or killed, for its hideousness.
And that's the message we can also glean from the jury's findings of mitigating factors - revealing that three separate jurors believed Moussaoui had "limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans" and three believed he played a minor role.
In the end, the only real link between the acknowledged fact that Moussaoui was a terrorist who was willing to die in a suicide attack and the actual attacks of 9/11 existed in the minds of the prosecution. And, at the last minute, these links sprang to life in the fantasy world of the terrorist himself, who cooked up a strange Forrest Gump plot - starring himself and Richard Reid - that the judge herself considered to be hooey and that even the prosecutors didn't believe.
This case was about a conspiracy, about some factual connection, however attenuated, between Zacarias Moussaoui's jihadi heart and the events of 9/11. And although the government has steadfastly stood by its legal claim that it was enough for Moussaoui to have wanted to be on those planes on 9/11, enough for him to have delighted as those planes went down, the jurors recognized this afternoon that a conspiracy to aid in a terror plot requires more than just a bad heart, and more than mere willingness to participate in the next one.
Maybe they just think too much, and not reacting "from the gut" as you're supposed to, and as the president boasts he himself does. It's that damned nuance again.
Lithwick ends with this - "These jurors understood that for this country to kill a terrorist for his ideas, hopes, and dreams is not much different than the terrorist's desire to come here and kill us for ours."
That's far too subtle, even if it is true.
But how did the president himself react?
With this -
President Bush said Wednesday the verdict rejecting the death penalty for al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui "represents the end of this case but not an end to the fight against terror."
Without commenting directly on the jury's decision, Bush declared, "Evil will not have the final say. This great nation will prevail."
A parsing of that from one of the writers at Hullabaloo -
But it is the liberals, damn their eyes, as some early eighteenth century captain of the British Navy would put it. But no one talks like that anymore. You find comments like this over at Red State, where one Thomas Crown modernizes the wording -
I have absolutely no idea what Bush is talking about.
Who ever implied that the "fight against terror" would "end" with the sentencing of Moussaoui? And what does a man receiving life imprisonment have to do with "evil" having the final say, or not having the final say? And how did evil have the penultimate say here? And what's this about prevailing? Prevail against what? A man spending the rest of his life behind bars? The future of the United States is somehow called into question by the verdict? What on earth is Bush talking about?
Okay, I'm exaggerating. I do think I understand the remarks. Bush is saying to his fans - one of out three Americans, even now, can you fucking believe it? - that he thinks the jury was infested with liberals and they let him off the hook; Zac should be whacked.
But really, that interpretation doesn't begin to do justice to the extremely weird way in which he said it - a fusion of mealy-mouthed Biz Speak, government double-talk, and American fundamentalist claptrap. And it's just as important that Bush left things out, like, for example, a mention of the actual decision - life imprisonment. I'm sure you guys can find numerous other subtleties, but these will do for starters.
Of course, the president couldn't get away with saying something like that. But he and his crew have managed to get folks to feel that way, which explains who's in power, at the moment.
I repeat: Should the entire American Left fall over dead tomorrow, I would rejoice, and order pizza to celebrate. They are not my countrymen; they are animals who happen to walk upright and make noises that approximate speech. They are below human. I look forward to seeing each and every one in Hell.
Oddly enough, some feel rather rosy at what happened, like this defense attorney, on the road, who offers this -
So the guy got what he deserved, and perhaps the day will come when we go after the real bad guys, not the whacked-out jerks who love them.
I just got to my destination. When the driver turned on the radio in the car leaving the airport, I asked about Moussaoui. He told me the jury came back with life and I shouted "Yes!" and threw my arm up in the air. I proceeded to tell him for the next 20 minutes how proud I was of the defense team in this case and what they had to work against - not only the investment of the country in a death verdict to retaliate against someone for 9/11 - but their own client who hated them and not only wouldn't assist them, but tried to sabotage them at every turn. Their dedication and professionalism is astounding. I've read every public filing in the case and they did such an incredible job for this crazy, bumbling holy warrior.
I then launched into a lecture about what was facing Moussaoui when he got to Supermax in Florence, where he will spend the rest of his days. Then we listened to the news and I heard that Moussaoui's words after the verdict were something like "America Lost, I Won" and I said to the driver, "He'll eat those words when he gets to Florence." It's not called Alcatraz of the Rockies for nothing. Without lawyers visiting him and sending him pleadings to read, and with virtually no human contact, lights shining on 24/7 as his every move in his tiny, windowless cell is monitored (at least for the first few months), he'll realize he got the short end of the stick pretty quickly.
Had he only cooperated with his lawyers, and not insisted on pleading guilty, perhaps his trial could have been about whether he was a co-conspirator in 9/11 and therefore legally responsible for it. Al Qaeda abandoned him years ago, he doesn't even have them any more. And any hope of martyrdom went down the drain with the life verdict. He will become a footnote in the history of 9/11.
One more thought. This is not a victory for America. Moussaoui had no role in 9/11. Cheering on al Qaeda and hoping they succeed - and celebrating when they did - does not make one a co-conspirator.
The scorecard remains: Al Qaeda: 3,000 killed on 9/11. Number of responsible persons brought to justice: None.
Where is Osama? Bush still can't find him.
This was a PR disaster for the administration. It might actually get people thinking. It's dangerous with they do that.