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Justice is Served: Want Fry With That?

May 5, 2006

For some reason I’m failing to get all worked up over the Moussaoui verdict. Surely this man was worthy of death. I would have no problem if he was given the death penalty- none – but life in prison without the possibility of parole is more than acceptable. Either outcome would be just in my mind. The important thing is he won’t be bothering anyone again. There was certainly some mushy-minded thinking going into the juror’s decisions, but I can live with the result. Denying this man the chance to become a martyr is absolutely greater punishment for him too. Not to mention the trouble we’ve been spared by France protesting a death verdict.

Right Wing Nuthouse has a typically moderate take on the whole affair:"Justice is the Lord’s, Justice Is Ours", and also asks some tough questions about others not yet prosecuted. I’ve been surprised, but not extremely so, that the sites I visit are tending not to call for his head.   


Then again, Jeff Goldstein takes a walk with Peggy Noonan’s eloquent column "They Should Have Killed Him":

As I listened to the court officer read the jury’s conclusions yesterday I thought: This isn’t a decision, it’s a non sequitur.

Of course he had a bad childhood; of course he was abused. You don’t become a killer because you started out with love and sweetness. Of course he came from unhappiness. So, chances are, did the nice man sitting on the train the other day who rose to give you his seat. Life is hard and sometimes terrible, and that is a tragedy. It explains much, but it is not a free pass.

I have the sense that many good people in our country, normal modest folk who used to be forced to endure being patronized and instructed by the elites of all spheres–the academy and law and the media–have sort of given up and cut to the chase. They don’t wait to be instructed in the higher virtues by the professional class now. They immediately incorporate and reflect the correct wisdom before they’re lectured.

I’m not sure this is progress. It feels not like the higher compassion but the lower evasion. It feels dainty in a way that speaks not of gentleness but fear.

  I happen, as most adults do, to feel a general ambivalence toward the death penalty. But I know why it exists. It is the expression of a certitude, of a shared national conviction, about the value of a human life. It says the deliberate and planned taking of a human life is so serious, such a wound to justice, such a tearing at the human fabric, that there is only one price that is justly paid for it, and that is the forfeiting of the life of the perpetrator. It is society’s way of saying that murder is serious, dreadfully serious, the most serious of all human transgressions.

It is not a matter of vengeance. Murder can never be avenged, it can only be answered.

If Moussaoui didn’t deserve the death penalty, who does? Who ever did?

Morally, it would have been far more appropriate to put him to death. But you can’t always do the morally best thing.

I do wonder, along with Goldstein and Noonan, if this bespeaks a failure of nerve to affirm the worth of our lives, the life of our nation. Probably best not to extrapolate one extraordinary event into a typical American mindset…. yet I wonder- what is worthy of retaliation? What is it ever going to be okay to try to kill those that would try to annihilate you?

It’s a moral calculus on a staggering scale. This one man could have prevented the deaths of almost 3,000 people, not to mention wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet those same wars, even with all the civilian casualties, have resulted in 100,000 more people being alive today with the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

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