The Wrong Punishment

The federal trial of Al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, who was once thought to be the “twentieth hijacker,” has entered the sentencing phase and seems certain to end in a death sentence for the hapless would-be terrorist. Moussaoui, the only person to be tried for the 9/11 attacks, pled guilty to six counts of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Whether he will be executed is the unanswered question. Moussaoui’s aspirations as a terrorist are not in doubt, but his actual connection to, or participation in, the 9/11 atrocities is. For one thing, Moussaoui was in jail on 9/11, having been arrested weeks earlier after his bumbling efforts to enroll in a flight school raised suspicions. Moreover, his public statements and outbursts since his arrest have been contradictory, if not incoherent. For example, he long denied any role in 9/11, claiming that he was training for a different mission. Taking the stand in his own “defense,” however, he inexplicably and implausibly announced that he was in fact to be the pilot of a fifth hijacked plane on 9/11, one to be flown into the White House. No informed observer believed a word of his testimony, recognizing Moussaoui’s bizarre confession as yet another attempt to draw attention to himself. More important, several Al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, have testified that Moussaoui was not involved in the attack. In fact, he was regarded as an unreliable and...

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