The verdict sparing the life of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was facing execution in connection with 11 September, has been received with mixed emotions, Tamam Ahmed Jama reports from Paris
In closing arguments in the final phase of the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to be charged in an American court in connection with the 11 September terrorist attacks, the prosecution said that there was “no place on this good Earth” for him. After 40 hours of deliberation, a 12- member jury opted for life in prison rather than execution. The verdict sparing Moussaoui’s life, announced last week at a United States district court in Alexandria, Virginia, came as a surprise for it was widely predicted that he was going to get the death penalty. Many Americans who were not in favour of Moussaoui’s execution welcomed the jury’s decision with a sense of relief. Among these are members of the victims’ families who, despite their private agonies resulting from the loss of their loved ones, were not seeking revenge.
“The newspapers tend to suggest that all 11 September families wanted Moussaoui’s execution and those who wanted execution got the spotlight,” Patricia Perry, who testified at Moussaoui’s trial, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “But there were many families who did not want Moussaoui’s execution and we’re pleased that the death penalty has been avoided. It would have been better if we did not have it in the first place.” Perry’s son, John William Perry, who was an officer with the New York Police Department (NYPD) but wanted to move on to a career in law, was filling out his retirement form at a police station a walking distance from the World Trade Center when the news of the attacks broke. He claimed back his badge, which had just handed in, and rushed off to the scene at once.
“He said, ‘I will complete the form when this job done,'” his mother said. Colleagues said they saw him last trying to help a woman who fainted. He disappeared into the rubble when south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Twenty-three NYPD police officers and 343 New York City firefighters lost their lives at the World Trade Center on 11 September.
Andrea LeBlanc, whose husband, Robert LeBlanc, was aboard United Airlines Flight 175, the plane that was flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center, also told the Weekly that she was relieved at the life in prison rather than death verdict. “It gives me hope for our judicial system, for our country, for humanity,” she said.
LeBlanc, who testified at Moussaoui’s trial for the defence, said she felt it was important that the jury and the world know that not all 11 September families wanted a verdict of death for Moussaoui.
“Violence comes in many forms and killing another person, for whatever reason, only perpetuates the cycle of violence,” she said. “I personally must make choices that will help create and sustain the kind of world I want to live in and that I want my grandchildren to inherit. I cannot respond to violence with more violence.”
LeBlanc, who is a member of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, said she finds curious the “societal assumption that a victim deserves, indeed needs, revenge. There is another response. I, like my husband would, were he alive, want to understand the reasons behind 11 September so we can begin to address them.” Her late husband taught Cultural/Human Geography at the University of New Hampshire for 35 years. “He spent his life trying to know and understand the people and the cultures of the world,” she said. “His view was not one of ‘them vs us'”
Given the gravity of the crimes of 11 September and the strong emotions that the attacks arouse among many Americans, questions had been raised as to whether Moussaoui could get a fair trial in the US. There had been concerns that the desire for vengeance was going to prevail over the demands of truth and justice.
“The Moussaoui trial and its outcome is a triumph for the American justice system,” Wright Salisbury, whose son-in- law, Ted Hennessy, was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 which hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, told the Weekly. “I have no desire for vengeance, nor is vengeance a proper motive for the death penalty. The death penalty demeans us all, putting the government and the public it serves in a position on a par with the murderers it is supposed to punish. If we are opposed to murder, we should not ourselves murder in the name of justice.”
But there are many Americans who favoured execution in Moussaoui’s case and were therefore disappointed with the outcome of the trial. Reacting to the verdict, former mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani — who is himself a former prosecutor and who testified for the prosecution at Moussaoui’s trial — said that he would have preferred a different verdict, but was nonetheless satisfied with the jury’s conclusion. His sentiment is shared by many Americans, including members of victims’ families, who, although they were hoping that Moussaoui would be handed the death penalty, accept the jury’s decision.
“A lot of people wanted him executed, but justice prevailed over anger,” Robert Turner, co-founder and associate director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, told the Weekly. “The fact that the jury didn’t go for the maximum punishment suggests that the jurors weighed the evidence and did not act on emotions. The system has worked.”
Some jury members said they felt that Moussaoui had a limited knowledge of the 11 September plot while others thought that, if he had any role in the attacks, it was a minor one.
In its editorial the day following the Moussaoui verdict, Le Monde saluted the US criminal justice system, which demonstrated that it is capable of rendering justice against enormous odds, but lamented that the “hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are still deprived by the American government the right to defendant themselves before a judge.”