Average citizens, political pundits, right-wing death penalty advocates, prosecutors, and virtually everyone else in this country is missing the boat when it comes to the trial of accused 20th 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui.
In his trial, Moussaoui has testified in his own "defense" and done virtually everything to assure that he gets the death penalty, from stating he's a member of Al Qaida to showing elation while listening to tapes of 9/11 victims beg for their lives. Most seem more than happy to accommodate him. I'm here to tell you that putting Moussaoui to death is the worst decision the jury could make. Quite frankly, the fact that he's even on trial is a complete bungle by the government. He shouldn't even be on trial. He should be released.
That Moussaoui is so hell-bent on receiving the death penalty is precisely why, at the very least, it should be taken off the table. In this case, death isn't a deterrent. It's the desired outcome for the accused. If Moussaoui is put to death, he will become (much like Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars") more powerful than we could ever imagine. He will become a martyr and that carries a lot of weight among Al Qaida members and supporters.
Of course, this is all beside the point. Moussaoui didn't actually kill anyone. Maybe he knew about 9/11, maybe he didn't, but not telling the authorities about it isn't the same as murdering somebody. What's next - giving people the chair for letting their inebriated buddies get behind the wheel and plow into unsuspecting motorists? Think this sort of thing through and you'll see that a line is getting crossed here and it's dangerous. The integrity of our legal system is a lot more important than whether or not this one guy bites the dust.
There's also the issue of whether Moussaoui actually knew anything or is just plain crazy. Even high-ranking Al Qaida members acknowledge that Moussaoui may have been, at best, part of a second wave of attacks and, at worst, a complete nobody who knew nothing and is just trying to ride their coattails on the Terrorism Express and turn himself into a terrorism superstar. The bottom line is that the trial isn't about determining whom he killed, but what he knew. There are substantial questions about whether he knew anything.
However, for argument's sake, let's just say that God sent word that Moussaoui was the 20th hijacker and could have prevented the 9/11 attacks and will be burning in the pits of hell sans virgins for all eternity should we choose to give him the needle. I would still argue against it. Here's why: it gives him what he wants. It gives him glory, which is what the suicide bomber and Al Qaida terrorists seek.
A much more effective deterrent would be to sentence Moussaoui to living out his days in a very small cell with pigs. Nobody would ever open his cell for any reason other than to put in more pigs. Moussaoui would live with them, sleep in their filth, and have to eat them to survive. From what little I know of his beliefs, this would absolutely be something worse than death and not something this brand of terrorist would look forward to. And if that's too politically incorrect for folks, we line his cell with Barbra Streisand wallpaper and make him watch "Yentl" over and over again like he's a character in "A Clockwork Orange".
That being said, it's not actually my first choice for Zac's punishment. I propose no punishment at all. I propose that we free Zacarias Moussaoui. I propose that we drop him in the middle of Afghanistan or Pakistan and let him go. One day, Zac will be anticipating the next day of trial. The next morning he'll be waking up in the middle of some little Pakistani village wondering what happened. Of course, he has to believe he got their naturally as does the rest of the world. So whether his escape is a prison break or a mistrial, the government needs to make that happen.
Of course, what Zac won't remember is that between the last thing he remembered and the time he woke up in Pakistan, American doctors inserted a microscopic GPS tracking device in his brain and a microscopic camera in his forehead. Then we wait and watch. We release news reports of his escape. We plant pro-Al Qaida news stories everywhere of what a great man Moussaoui is. We let him run his mouth. And we watch, so that in case he's just a crazy dude with a death wish, we're not launching any air strikes against a Starbucks in Cleveland.
But if fate should have it that Zac goes to that meeting with the Al Qaida bosses to get his thanks or when, hopefully, he finds his way into the Afghanistan mountains to meet with Osama Bin Laden, a missile will already be in the air with his name on it. In the long run, it might not make any difference in the war against terrorism. In fact, there's a good argument to be made that it won't, but if we're real careful and pay attention and play our cards right, payback will feel real good.