Greg’s post on the Moussaoui verdict hits the point well enough that for me to say more is an embarrassingly transparent conceit; but then, what’s blogging for if not the celebration of conceit times infinity. So here goes:
Speaking as a tavern owner who used to be a civil trial lawyer (someone, in other words, who has less expertise on federal criminal law than your average cab driver), the attempt to hold Moussaoui culpable in the Sept. 11 attacks always struck me as one hell of a stretch. Not only was he sitting in a jail cell during the attacks on Sept. 11, there was also absolutely no evidence offered that he assisted in the perpetration of these awful crimes in any affirmative way.
Instead, the prosecution asserted the novel theory (accepted by the jury in the first phase of the trial) that Moussaoui was to blame in the Sept. 11 deaths because he lied to the FBI by failing to disclose his knowledge of the terrorists’ plans before the attacks occurred.
But the more one looks at the case, the more it seems clear that Moussaoui wasn’t actually being accused even of overt lying, but rather of something more along the lines of a failure to voluntarily disclose information — information which could well have incriminated him.
This, of course, raises troubling Fifth Amendment issues, but even aside from the legal niceties, there was always something distasteful about the prosecution of this mentally deranged young fanatic, something that seemed cooked up and artificial. The motivating factor in the prosecution often appeared to be more the government’s strong desire to execute someone, anyone, for the Sept. 11 crimes, as opposed to the actual facts of the case itself.
Killing Moussaoui on this basis, while perhaps giving momentary satisfaction to some of the victim’s families, would have belittled the nation.
The jury did the right thing.
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