The trial of Zacarias Moussaoui has taught the U.S. a thing or two. It’s our first real victory in trying terrorists, something the judicial system has yet to get a grip on (see Richard Reid, Hamid Hayat, Sami al-Arian) and despite the trial’s sideshow ambiance, it put a human face, and a human history, on jihad. However, the troubled story of Moussaoui’s life, a story overshadowed by his nearly absurdist derisions throughout the trial, will come to an end in near solitude at the Florence, Colo., Supermax facility. This is a far cry from the death sentence many Americans (as well as Moussaoui himself) desired.
At Supermax, often referred to as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” Moussaoui will live out the remainder of his life in a 7-by-12-foot cell, with a narrow window offering a view only of more prison walls. For 23 hours a day he’ll be alone with a mattress-topped concrete slab for a bed, a shower, toilet and concrete stool. One hour a day will be spent in a recreation yard with nothing but a view of sky. He’ll have no current news and no real interaction with other people, particularly the other infamous residents of Supermax. The 500-inmate facility is also home to fellow bombers Richard Reid, Ramzi Yousef, Eric Rudolph, Ted Kaczynski and Terry Nichols as well as Colombian assassin Dandeny Munoz-Mosquera and hit man Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso. Supermax is where they put the “worst of the worst” – the inmates who are the biggest threat to themselves and each other. A list of former and current residents reveals gang leaders, multiple murderers, enforcers, terrorists and every other boogeyman that haunts true crime novels and prime-time TV.
I can’t understand the calls for Moussaoui’s death. Columnists of all ilks are foaming at the mouth over his life sentence. Is it just the visceral pleasure of ending someone’s life? Is it some sense of misdirected patriotism?
Moussaoui desired death. For Moussaoui, his death would’ve been a martyr’s death; he would have been freed from this world and treated to the riches promised in the afterworld. His bravado, his hatred was all designed to get him the death penalty, to let him live out the (after)life he would have earned if he had actually followed through and crashed an airliner into the White House. The civil verdict of a life tucked away in prison is perfect for him, and I’m glad he’s going to have every day here on earth to look forward to instead. This is not a criticism of Islam or Islamic beliefs; Moussaoui’s religious affiliation means nothing to me. The fact that he is hate-filled and violent does. In a world where deviousness and violence are so often rewarded with power, it’s nice to see someone so filled with odium relegated to such a powerless position.
Supermax prisons conjure up images of comic-book proportions – horror stories of deranged inmates escaping into the world reeking havoc – the idea that so many “evil” geniuses are housed together, living in infamy, gives the American public the shivers. But in actuality the “villains” housed at Supermax are barely leading a life at all, confined to such tiny spaces, with, for many, no chance of seeing the outside world again and little hope for transcendence. As far as I’m concerned it’s a perfect place for Zacarias Moussaoui. He’s tucked away, hidden and easily forgotten. The showboating al-Qaida member will spend the rest of his days being led by the hand with no one to sermonize about the horrors of the U.S. to. I can’t imagine a punishment better than that. Now if we could just free up the cell next door for Dick Cheney then everything would be perfect.