Moussaoui On Trial For His Life

Using Terrorism To Justify The Death Penalty


By: Julien Ball

The federal government is seeking the death penalty against Zacharias Moussaoui, who is accused of conspiring with the September 11 attackers. In the face of a horrible tragedy, the federal government is using Moussaoui’s case to justify the death penalty.

The evidence against Moussaoui is largely circumstantial. According to prosecutors, Moussaoui is guilty of attending flight training school, inquiring about crop-dusting procedures, and allegedly receiving funding from an international fugitive. The glaring weakness in the case against Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, is that he was in a Minnesota jail on September 11 on unrelated charges.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is out for blood. During Bush’s first year in office, he resumed the federal death machine when he executed Timothy McVeigh and Juan Raul Garza last June, despite mounting protest against their executions. McVeigh’s execution was the first federal execution since 1963.

The U.S. continues to face increasing international opposition to the death penalty. The French government had urged Attorney General John Ashcroft to forgo the death penalty in Moussaoui’s case. "We do not accept the death penalty," said French Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu. France, like every other member of the European Union, bans the death penalty. Europeans have remained firm in this stance, refusing to extradite alleged al-Qaeda suspects to the U.S. without a commitment that they would not be charged with capital punishment.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, public opinion regarding the death penalty has barely shifted. A Gallup survey three weeks after the attacks showed that 68 percent of those surveyed favored the death penalty, up just three percentage points from a survey last May.

Numerous states and public officials continue to question the fairness of the death penalty. In March, Indiana banned the execution of juveniles. In a comprehensive review of the California death penalty, the San Jose Mercury News found that the state’s system has many of the same problems that have created concern about the death penalty across the nation. "The whole thing is a mess," said former California Supreme Court Justice Edward Panelli, a conservative who voted to affirm most death sentences he reviewed. "It wouldn’t hurt me at all if they just changed the law."

Later this spring, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a case that could ban the execution of the mentally retarded.

And recently, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said that he would declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional unless the government could explain why so many condemned inmates turn out to be innocent.

In the coming months, activists will have the opportunity to expose the death penalty as a broken system. What we do now is more important than ever.