State-sponsored execution is not a sign of an enlightened and advanced society and to be fooled by the distorted view of terrorism — where one dead eye requires the death of another eye — is to purchase the argument that terrorism successfully strikes fear in the heats of reasonable people.


Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a U.S. court in connection with September 11, should spend his life in prison instead of being executed for his role in the hijacked airliner attacks, a jury decided on Wednesday.

If we wish to lead by the example of our lives, killing those who kill others must not be the role of the state because it levels those who represent the people to the same station as the killer. The Death Penalty is especially ironic when the forces fighting most for the preservation of life in the womb have no problem and see no irrational disconnect in ending a life with a needle or a firing squad or an electric chair.

Moussaoui did not win.

He will serve a more terrible term than finding immediate relief in death. He will not have a Martyr’s end and the United States will not lower its values to those of a terrorist. He will die a natural death as his life is slowly drained from him as a common criminal doing time for an extraordinary crime.

Moussaoui’s living confirms our faith in intellect over emotion and in the rule of law over the brutality of self-initiated terrorist acts. Children seek revenge.

Adults seek punishment. Immature minds see the world in black and white, in right and wrong and in how one always equals one. Mature minds see the world in greys, and in “if, but” and in how problems can equal more than one solution. It’s easy to kill. It’s harder to forgive. It’s hardest to take the high road while realizing — even if your opponent doesn’t — that winning is only in the eye of the beholder.


  1. It’s not a stretch to advocate a pro-life stance and the death penalty at the same time. There’s a big difference between a fetus, whose only “crime” is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that of a person who is proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have willingly participated in an act of violence that results in enough carnage to earn the maximum sentence the law allows.
    In Moussaoui’s case, the jury couldn’t hand down the maximum sentence given the facts and the applicable laws before them. Like you, I don’t see the verdict as a win for Moussaoui. It’s a win for our criminal justice system that, in this instance, put the facts and the law above a desire for revenge.

  2. Hi James —
    I’m not sure I understand the argument you’re making about a fetus and a criminal.
    I thought the argument for being pro-life was to preserve life?
    Or are only some lives deserving of preservation?
    Are those who commit crimes less deserving of life than an “innocent fetus” and if so where is the line drawn between innocence and criminality and repentance and reformation?
    Are people born guilty or innocent or do they choose their own way?
    Does predestiny only confirm innocence or are some seeds born bad?
    Are mentally ill people who murder innocent of the crime even though they do not understand the concept of killing?
    Or is innocence determined from outside the person and not from within the mind of the actor?

  3. Hi David,
    I’m glad that Moussaoui got a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
    Reportedly he’ll be going to ADX Florence — not a very nice place to spend the rest of once’s life.
    The other nice thing about the life sentence is that Moussaoui won’t become a martyr in the eyes of people who dislike the American way of life.
    I just hope that Moussaoui doesn’t get offers of marriage and “fan clubs” devoted to springing him from jail, like other infamous convicted criminals, such as Charles Manson, have had in the past.
    To go back to James’ comment, the pro-life movement is focusing on saving the unborn children who have little advocacy in their favor, whereas convicted criminals have access to the courts, prison law libraries, counsel, and advocacy groups.
    With high emotions being spent on the pro-life cause, it is likely that many people have little energy left to advocate in favor of the convicted criminals and therefore leave that to the many who are called to that advocacy.
    Also, unlike the stereotypes often presented in the media, not all pro-life people are in favor of the death penalty.
    The Catholic Church is anti-death penalty and pro-life. The Church considers both positions to be a part of its Peace and Social Justice advocacy mission.
    From Catholic Update:

    “We have a very consistent commitment as Church to defending the sanctity of human life. We struggle mightily against abortion; we have a commitment and concern for the poor; we deplore racial and sexual discrimination and the self -destructive use of drugs. Our position against the use of the death penalty falls into that continuum. We believe that an issue such as capital punishment is not just a question of public policy, but is at its very core a moral issue, and therefore a religious issue, and we must speak to it.”
    —Archbishop John Roach,
    St. Paul-Minneapolis

  4. Hi Chris —
    Yes, I understand he’ll die in Colorado as well. It should be a fine end to a treacherous life.
    When you said:

    To go back to James’ comment, the pro-life movement is focusing on saving the unborn children who have little advocacy in their favor, whereas convicted criminals have access to the courts, prison law libraries, counsel, and advocacy groups.

    I become uncomfortable with calling fetuses “children” and providing “foetal rights” to biological entities that are unable to live on their own beyond their host.
    I realize there is a great temptation for some to move the discussion from one of a religious/scientific debate and into the realm of the law where one can try to confer inalienable rights and responsibilities on a fetus and to open up a discussion to larger legal terms like “innocence” and “guilt” when it comes to terrorism and the “protection” fetuses but I think that path is dangerously well-worn with picket signs and the intentional induction of emotional terrorism on women who — like it or not — are the ones carrying, and the only true advocates for, the fetuses they carry.

  5. To keep the discussion on Moussaoui and away from the abortion issue since it’s likely that no minds will be changed today, it’s interesting that that Moussaoui’s only entertainment will be anger management, parenting, and literacy classes, as well as religious servcies, piped into his small television.
    The Wikipedia entry on ADX Florence raises questions about human rights in such an environment:

    Many have argued that the psychological effects of long-term solitary confinement can be devastating. Prisoners may suffer from hallucinations, anxiety, problems with impulse control, and self-mutilation. In addition, confinement may encourage anger and rage, resulting in further violence. Depression may set in, with prisoners becoming extremely lethargic, losing memory, and refusing to exercise.

    Could a life sentence of constant survillence and limited social contact be worse than the death penalty?
    One sentence kills the body, while the other sentence seems to kill the soul.

  6. FYI —
    The image in my article are actually Moussaoui’s eyes! I took his eyes from his mug shot, cut them out, blew them up and found the stylized terror within them.

  7. Hi Chris —
    I don’t understand why they are allowed to have TV in the first place!
    Heywaitaminute! You’re leaving behind the abortion matter but now raising the issue of killing souls! Here we go again!
    I do think the more severe punishment is to confine Moussaoui to his mind than to free him in death. I think there is a psychological affect at play in solitary confinement but I don’t where you draw the line between a healthy incarceration and an unhealthy incarceration.
    If I were to argue for healthy incarceration we’d have to talk about physical activity, the expression of all desires – including sexual and the choice between heterosexual and homosexual enactment thereof — fruits and vegetables and unfettered access to healthcare and community interaction within the prison… it all gets sort of silly fast.…

  8. It’s a tough call on what is a humane or inhumane prison experience.
    Moussaoui in general population would mean a bad death at the hand of inmates sooner or later.
    But, on the other hand, some killers, like Richard Speck, enjoyed prison.
    From Wikipedia:

    Speck once again became notorious after pictures and videos of him in prison were made public. In the videos, Speck was shown using drugs and having sex with a fellow male inmate. He also appears to have altered his body to grow female-like breasts with hormone treatment. In the video, the inmate he later had sex with asked him how he felt about the nurses he killed. Shrugging, he said, “It just wasn’t their night.” He later boastfully proclaimed, “If they only knew how much fun I was having, they’d turn me loose.” This video was used to argue for the death penalty.

    I don’t see Moussaoui going that route, but if he was out and about, no pun intended, maybe he’d wind up having fun in ways people never contemplated.
    There has to be some happy medium between the soul-killing isolation treatment and the Speckian prison experience.

  9. Dave —
    Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in prison. Why he was allowed to be in the general population is beyond me. Here’s a link to his death and the page contains some gruesome links to images of his victims — click on those links only if you are interested in dissected corpses:
    Fanatics only see glory in the deed and whatever happens after is just the cost of the deed they have to pay.

  10. Hi David,
    The link didn’t work, but I checked it out on Google’s cache.

    They thought that the ultimate end or happiness of the soul depends on its ability to separate itself from the demands of the body and to focus on grasping the eternal aspects of the universe.

    Moussaoui was dishonoring his religion because his actions do nothing to further the eternal aspects of the universe and instead re-focus humanity on the divisions and separations that sustain conflict between the two worldviews.

  11. Hi Chris —
    That’s strange the link didn’t work for you! I clicked on it on three different computers here and could reach it.
    Okay, so Moussaoui was dishonoring his religion. Why? The hijackers were praising Allah when United Flight 93 was blown up. How does a very clear textual mandate get misinterpreted and set into action that goes against the spirit of the text?

  12. Dave —
    I agree with you! Dahmer deserved a rotten natural death. The fact that the prison did not protect him is their shame.

  13. Hi David,
    The Islamic teachers probably aren’t teaching the text the way it is supposed to be taught. They instead are using it to create jihadists.
    A Fox News report quotes the Washington Post:

    The Washington Post on Monday revealed that one such school outside Washington, D.C., uses textbooks teaching 11th graders that “the Day of Judgment can’t come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews.”
    Other accredited Islamic schools in America have world maps on classroom walls that exclude Israel. Some such schools promote class discussions that portray Usama bin Laden as “simply the victim of … prejudice” against all Muslims in America.

    The same thing happens with other religions when people are taught ideologies that are inconsistent with the text of their faith, i.e. the Word of Faith movement.

  14. News update from the Guardian Unlimited:

    “You came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory but to paraphrase the poet TS Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper,” Judge Leonie Brinkema told the 37-year-old French national as she sentenced him to six life terms without the possibility of parole.
    Before sentencing, Moussaoui was allowed to address the court in his last public statement before being taken to a maximum security jail in Colorado.
    During his speech, which lasted less than five minutes, he told the court: “You have branded me as a terrorist or a criminal or whatever. Look at yourselves. I fight for my belief.”
    He concluded: “God save Osama bin Laden – you will never get him.”
    After his speech, and amidst repeated interruptions from Moussaoui, Judge Brinkema told him: “You will never get a chance to speak again and that’s an appropriate ending.”

    Judge Leonie Brinkema sounds like a great jurist!

  15. Excellent comments, Chris, thanks!
    I agree Judge Brinkema did an outstanding and credible job throughout a difficult trial.

  16. David, thanks for this exquisite piece of writing!
    “Children seek revenge.
    Adults seek punishment.”
    Or, “revenge” in the name of punishment/ justice?
    Doesn’t that happen in our life everyday? Taking life as a boxing ring or a soccer field?
    Would Moussaoui ever realize how futile his deed was? In fact, how pointless any fanaticism is?

  17. Hi Katha —
    I think Moussaoui sees himself as special. He was selected by forces greater than the known world to carry out his mission. I don’t think he cares about having a point beyond the one in his mind.

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