Some will say the Moussaoui life sentence merely proves that we in the U.S. are beyond biblical justice, beyond an eye for an eye, even if our Islamic enemies do not bother to claim any grievance larger than resentment to justify the most startling slaughter of innocents all over the world. This argument–that the refusal to impose the death penalty on Moussaoui shows ‘we are not like them’–might have been entertainable before September 11. It may no longer be.
What fades from memory over time is the intense, active loathing that the Islamic hijackers had for their victims that day (though one guesses there is not a waking moment that the U.S. soldiers serving daily in Afghanistan or Iraq fail to hold in mind the nature of their terrorist opposition). ‘United 93’ brings this and much else back to the surface.
Nothing could be more innocent than the fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, attendants and pilots on that plane. Like us at this moment, they were in the act of daily life. They were not combatants in any sense. They were targeted precisely because they were unprotected. During periods of peace, and we have had a long one, some people come to believe that this happy condition is the natural state of life. It is not. The unprotectedness of civilized, quotidian life was earned, over centuries, often in war.
Defenders of Moussaoui’s life sentence say he will ‘rot in prison.’ Perhaps in a better world Zacarias Moussaoui would share a cell with Hannibal Lecter. But if our moral betters aren’t going to let Saddam’s torturers rot in Abu Ghraib, if they aren’t going to let the CIA’s most important al Qaeda captives rot in ‘secret’ foreign prisons, they certainly aren’t going to let Moussaoui rot in Florence, Colo. He will be treated more than well.
Not to mention the Moussaoui trial itself. We arrive at the end of these interminable trial circuses of procedural delay and then claim ‘the system works’ and ‘justice’ has been done. No, it has done damage to the normal idea of justice. He saw the game early on and made a mockery of it. Moussaoui achieved a two-year delay in his trial by demanding to interview al Qaeda detainees. But our moral betters insist that the whole lot of Guantanamo detainees be given access to this same system of justice. They would diminish and crush it.