Wednesday, May 3, 2006

A Sane Sentence

From the New York Times:

A federal court jury spared the life of Zacarias Moussaoui today, voting to send him to prison for the rest of his days rather than condemn him to death for the carnage of Sept. 11, 2001.

I’m an opponent of the death penalty, so while I’m not sympathetic to Moussaoui or insensitive to the horrors of 9/11 and the survivors, I’m not sorry he wasn’t sentenced to death.

I can understand the rage and hatred people feel toward him and what he says he stands for. To make it worse, during the trial Moussaoui mocked the victims and our way of life at every turn. But our legal system isn’t about rage, it’s about justice, and killing a criminal for the sake of assuaging our emotions isn’t justice, it’s vengence. Yes, the bible says “an eye for an eye,” but the bible also metes out the death penalty for eating shrimp, so using that as a standard for black-letter law is dubious.

The only things that executing someone like Moussaoui would accomplish is to make him a martyr to his cause — which he seemed to want anyway — and put him out of our minds so that we can “move on.” If he is to spend the rest of his life rotting away in a jail cell, he will be denied both the symbolism that his death would provide to the madmen who follow him, and we will not be so quick to forget the lessons of 9/11; he will be here to remind us that are people on the fringe of sanity who, for whatever mad reason, hate us and are willing to die to prove it. If we forget that, then all we’ve done is put him — and the horror — out of our minds.

Life in prison will also prove that we are better than he is. Revenge killing is the method of these fanatics, so why should we lower ourselves to the level of those who wish to drag us down? Denying him his last hurrah is preferable than putting him to death; after all, if he’s dead, he’ll never suffer the years of slow torturous boredom and deprivation that life in prison will bring him. Dog willing, he will find that life is worse than death.