May 03, 2006

In selecting a sentence of life imprisonment, the jury denied many in the United States their vengeance and Zacarias Moussaoui his martyrdom; for his own safety in prison Moussaoui may have to be kept in solitary confinement for the rest of his life; and still Moussaoui was able to flash a "V" for victory at the end of the trial and to call out:
America, you lost. Raskin and Novak, you lost. I won.
Moussaoui may be the one being led to jail, the one forced to accept the consequences of his actions -- in significant part also of his intent (and we should be wary of where that can lead) -- and yet he is not wrong: for there can be no "win" here for the United States, not within parameters its citizenry (and most of the world) are willing to accept. One of the major weapons of any guerrilla is the ability to create a framework of moral ambiguity: such that any who oppose the guerrilla must step within that created framework to do so. Intent and active conspiracy cannot be disputed, nor the outcome of that conspiracy; but the true and full disclosure that cannot but convict Moussaoui out of his own mouth and his own willing words carries with it a threat of ... true and full disclosure, a blade with two edges: what has been seen by the people and the powers to have been necessary in the past, what may yet be needed in future. (Yet not at all a threat, interestingly, if nothing has been done by the current generation in power or by its allies that cannot stand the full transparent light of day.)

What are the current options, after all? A nation acts out of natural self-interest, toward its own survival always: and thus one such as Moussaoui cannot be allowed to remain free. Whether you believe in vengeance or forgiveness, neither is synonymous with not facing the consequences of one's actions. In any adequately governed nation, in attempting to approximate a codification of ethics, legalities quickly take the place of ethics: suggesting that a "least worst" outcome requires a legal approach. It is generally accepted in international law, an attempted codefication of mutual respect, that those not normally resident in a country nevertheless have an obligation to obey that country's laws while on its soil, and may be subject to prosecution should they break any of those laws. (Curiously, one of the major dissenters to this policy is the United States itself.)

Whether or not the legalities of this and future similar cases are to be those of peacetime or of war remains a (dark) gray area. Those of peace happened to be chosen for this current purpose. (Again I leave aside the question of whether war really does have rules: bearing in mind that the presence or absence of such a code must cut in both directions if it is to have any objective validity.) However, consistency of application is crucial for the continued validity of any legal code, especially since the words "war" and "terror" have been linked at the highest levels. Since the United States does currently have active wars interlinked with this and other domestic cases, the question of which set of laws is to apply can only grow cloudier until either the only relevant factor is how to achieve a desired outcome, or else a clear division is forced into existence.

One suggests that a clear legal roadmap (and the willingness to adhere to it even when an outcome might not be the personally desired one) is urgently required.

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