Thankless job well done

May 05, 2006

Even four and a half years later, America's desire for vengeance against those cold-blooded killers of Sept. 11, 2001 is still palpable.

But with mastermind Osama bin Laden still at large, and captured plotters being held beyond reach of the judicial system at least until interrogators are through with them, federal prosecutors sought to make would-be hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui a proxy target for revenge. He willingly obliged by displaying himself as a contemptible and darkly twisted character.

The federal jury that rejected pleas to order Mr. Moussaoui's execution saw through all that, however. After painstakingly careful deliberations, the jurors determined he was too minor a player in the al-Qaida plot and too tormented by an abusive childhood to merit a death sentence for his failure to warn authorities in advance of the attacks.

In so doing, the jury upheld the highest standards of American justice, while at the same time ensuring the defendant faces a severe penalty for his role in the crimes.

Mr. Moussaoui, 37, is now expected to spend the rest of his life cut off from nearly all human contact in a high-security "Supermax" prison in the Colorado desert. For 23 hours a day, he will be in solitary confinement. His only view of the sky will come from a small exercise courtyard deep within the prison complex. His mother, Aicha el-Wafi, protested he would live "like a rat in a hole" and "die in little doses."

During his final ravings, Mr. Moussaoui claimed victory over America. But the win actually belongs to America's promise of a fair trial - thanks to a jury that resisted the temptation to put emotion ahead of reason.

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