Friday, May 05, 2006

"Several virgins short of a good time"

Writes Gerard Baker of Zacarias Moussaoui's likely experience for the next thirty years in Florence Federal Correctional Complex in Colorado. With Moussaoui escaping lethal injection, some - the prosecution certainly, the government, and perhaps some relatives of the 9/11 victim's - may have received Moussaoui's "you lost" taunt in the way he intended:
"But justice was surely done this week and it should send a signal to the world that American's value are the right ones. This is not because, as some of America's critics believe, the death penalty is necessarily wrong and that this week's sentence somehow represents a rare moment of civilisation in American justice. You can oppose capital punishment - as I do - and yet not necessarily believe its existence makes America a fundamentally barbaric country.

What mattered about the Moussaoui trial, what was so impressive about it, was not the sentence itself, but the process. In a narrow legal sense, the jury's verdict was the right one. Moussaoui plotted to murder thousands of people, but he actually seized no innocent flight attendants that day, slit no throats, piloted no planes. The gap between conspiracy and commission has always been an important one in measuring the punishment against the crime.

It is this ability of the jurors to weigh the law and the evidence in a sober way and to set aside the claims of rightful vengeance that is most impressive and most uplifting about the verdict. It was especially impressive that the jury decided a month ago that the defendant Moussaoui was eligible for the death penalty, but then subsequently decided that he should not actually receive it, a pair of decisions that reflects an almost philosophical sensitivity to the niceties of the law.

And it is precisely this respect for niceties, as frustrating as they may be to prosecutors and those who would have preferred summary justice, that marks out America, and its friends in the civilised world, from the brutes and tyrants who are trying to destroy it."
Often don't like Baker's stuff but thought that was rather good: "What mattered about the Moussaoui trial, what was so impressive about it, was not the sentence itself, but the process". Absolutely.

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