Friday, May 05, 2006

Grace through mercy

How ironic it is that one of the truest measures of a country's nobility is its capacity to offer justice to those who deserve it the very least.

I have followed the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui closely, fascinated by the complex and outrageous factors involved - from Moussaoui's insane rants, to the prosecutorial shenanigans, to the stunning witness-stand confession, to the juror misconduct, to the disturbing fact, half-admitted, that he didn't really do what we all know he was really on trial for.

In my mind Moussaoui swings wildly from being pitiable for brief flashes, for his obvious mental illness to - mostly - despicable for the manifestation of it, and for the knowledge that he is one of many who would murder innocents for their own twisted ends - and they can't all be clinically crazy. Yet a jury of twelve Americans took to heart the charge to hear his case dispassionately and with justice, rather than vengeance, as their goal. And at least one of them, possibly more, rejected the "satisfying" and probably popular verdict of death, and instead judged the case on its legal merits and recommended life in prison, a verdict the Judge reinforced.

There is a measure of satisfaction in this goal, too. He is denied the martyr status he craves (although I wonder myself how much of a genuine martyr he could have been - I get the sense he is more of an embarrassment to radical Islam than a hero at this point - but he wouldn't know that) and given the choice between life in a SuperMax prison and a painless, clinical death, many would probably embrace the latter.

But that isn't the point, really. The point is that it would have been very easy to condemn him for death as a way of extracting some small, unsatisfying measure of revenge for the tentatively-related deaths of 3,000 innocent civilians on September 11, 2001. Easy, but wrong. And in the end, it is the rejection of the easy, viscerally-satisfying route that elevates the US justice system and the citizens who partook in this trial to a place of pride, in granting mercy to a man who would not extend it himself.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home