REFLECTIONS ON A CIRCUS THAT HAS ONLY RECENTLY LEFT TOWN
Ramifications of the Zacarias Moussauoi Trial
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
excerpts from a poem penned by CHARLES J. GUITEAU, the convicted assassin of President James A. Garfield, and recited by him out loud in what has been described as "unusually high pitch" (intended to evoke a dying child crying out to its parents) only moments before his hanging: 30 June 1882.
When Zacarias Moussauoi- long referred to (if only as a legend in persons' minds) as "the 20th [9-11] hijacker"- was sentenced last week, upon recommendation by the same Federal petit jury that had convicted him of various and sundry terrorism charges, to life in prison instead of the Death penalty his Federal prosecutors had sought, the sentencing judge admonished him in a tone that reminded more than one reporter and pundit of the words once said at the time of the hanging of those convicted of the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln: "we wish to hear their names no more".
But I, for one, was far more reminded of the conviction of, and sentence meted out upon, a different assassin- one Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield in the back at a Washington railroad station, after which the President lingered for some 2 1/2 months before finally expiring. Guiteau was a man who, in newspaper dispatches appearing on front pages across the country the morning of 3 July 1881- the very day after what was, at the time of these comments, still merely an attempted assassination, was already being described as "a half-crazed, pettifogging lawyer... who has led a precarious existence in several of the large cities of the country".
Doubtless deranged at best, with something between a 'Walter Mitty' complex and all-out "delusions of grandeur", downright insane at worst, Guiteau would likely have been executed in any event, if only because of the fact that his bullet had felled the Nation's Chief Executive (in late 1881 going into 1882, the time frame of Guiteau's trial, a majority of the American polity [as certainly was the case with the jurors who convicted him (back then, it was the judge who imposed the actual sentence)] could still well recall the Assassination of Lincoln not quite 17 years earlier), although it is altogether clear that what actually killed Garfield was the usual medical practice of the time (it was not uncommon to continually probe for the location of a bullet in the body [Roentgen's X-rays were still a decade and a half in the future] without necessarily re-sterilizing the device used to so probe [Garfield actually died from blood poisoning: in truth, his wounds were actually less serious than those sustained by President Ronald Reagan a century later]).
But, given the fact that his shooting the President was the very first act in the whole series of acts which would ultimately lead to Garfield's death (essentially, Guiteau was really being tried for what later would become known as "felony murder" [willful, deliberate homicide in the course of attempting to carry out a major crime], the legal theory being that Garfield would not have been probed for the location of a bullet in his body in the first place [and, therefore, need not have died of the ensuing blood poisoning] had Guiteau not, at the start, put that very bullet into the President's body), the only way Guiteau's life could be spared was via what we today would call an "insanity plea", governed at the time by the so-called "M'Naghten Rule" (named for the criminal defendant in a 1843 case in England in which this rule was first applied) in which insanity may only prevail as a defense when the person suffers from a mental defect that prevented the defendant from either comprehending the essence of his criminal act or discerning whether the act was right or wrong: the keys to a "M'Naghten" defense being that said defense must prove that the criminal act in question arose from "disease of the mind" (that is, the defendant's mental defect itself must be inherent) and, if the defendant- indeed- either did not know what he was doing or at least did not know it was wrong as a result of said inherent mental defect, his/her criminal responsibility is to be judged based only on how the facts appeared to the defendant, not necessarily to the proverbial "reasonable person".
I'm not here trying to imply that Zacarias Moussauoi is at all "insane" under the above "M'Naghten" definition, nor am I at all someone who thinks that Moussauoi's terrorism-related activities should go unpunished, but I am left to wonder just how much closure one can possibly have in relation to the events of 11 September 2001, given the best information available in public sources about him, now that his trial is over. Conspiracy bloggers aside (whether those in the "Moussauoi was railroaded" crowd or the "Moussauoi was close friends with the still-unidentified [at least publicly] 'John Doe # 2' of 1995 Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing infamy" mob), I myself feel no closure whatsoever! Instead, I feel manipulated, or at the very least duped, by a governmental "sleight of hand" far more worthy of a stage musician working one of the rings in a proverbial "Big Top" than the Administration of what is still generally viewed as the World's last surviving Superpower (if only for the duration).
While it is true that Federal Law Enforcement has long been back-pedaling from any idea that there even was a "20th hijacker" (and, indeed, many other so-called "20th hijackers" have since been postulated by those both inside and outside Law Enforcement [while I myself believe that the best information, at least as of this typing, is that Al Qa'eda utilized as many terrorists as it could muster at the time and yet still carry out the 9-11 Attacks and that the number of same turned out, purely by happenstance, to be 19]--- the 9-11 Commission, by the way, itself identified as many as eight other Al Qa'eda operatives who would otherwise have taken part in the 9-11 Attacks but for their inability to gain entry into the United States beforehand), it was Vice President Dick Cheney himself who publicly claimed, back in October 2001, that a terrorist suspect who had already been in custody a month before 9-11 (clearly it was Moussauoi to whom Cheney was referring) was supposed to have been an integral part of the 9-11 plot (if Cheney's comments fueled a "20th Hijacker" concept in the press, the Administration certainly did not immediately hesitate to milk the popular assumptions engendered by that concept [for there had been only 4 such hijackers on one of the four planes involved in 9-11, rather than the 5 on the other three: at the time, I suppose, it seemed only natural to assume that someone involved in the conspiracy didn't quite make it to the "party"] for its own political and legal purposes-- and not just in relation to the eventual prosecution of Moussauoi itself).
Because the Administration initially benefited from the inferences drummed up amongst the populace by this "20th Hijacker" idea, there was never any real public "follow up" on its part when it came to the veracity, or even efficacy (in relation to investigating 9-11 itself as well as any other Al Qa'eda plots which might have been in the offing), of this concept, just a shrug of the shoulders (then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, for example, publicly opining that there "may well have been another [9-11] hijacker: whether the 20th or not, who's to say?") along with a continuous haze of "protection of sources and methods" mumbo-jumbo mangled with yet more requests by politicians and bureaucrats that we Americans sacrifice ever more of our own Civil Rights and Liberties in exchange for Homeland Security ('Go about your daily lives, be ever vigilant, report anything suspicious [after all, that '20th hijacker' might still be out there somewhere!] and, by the way, be sure to see United 93- in theatres now!' [;-)]).
Nowadays, many pro-Bush Administration websites and blogs portray the whole "20th Hijacker" idea as merely the product of a liberal media bias solely bent on embarrassing the President (given the fact that the directest connection of Moussauoi to the actual 9-11 Attacks appears to be rather tenuous at best) but it is not at all fair for that President's Administration to escape responsibility for its being altogether disingenuous in its trumpeting an alleged Al Qa'eda terrorist (who later turned out to be Moussauoi) being in Federal custody in the immediate months after the 9-11 Attacks as "something of the highest importance" at a time when it, or so it now appears, Moussauoi-in-custody was actually of relatively little import in the larger scheme of things relative to the War on Terror that same Administration has always claimed it is effectively waging.
If nothing else, the very term "20th hijacker" has- by now- become reduced to a mere metaphor for any of those "persons unknown" who might once have been connected to the 9-11 conspiracy or, whether so connected or not, might- even as one reads this very piece- be plotting the next 9-11. In essence, the term now has attached to it pretty much the same connotation that the term "fifth column" once had during World War II or the (misapplied, by the way) term "Fourth Reich" once meant to Nazi-hunters in the years and decades immediately after that same war.
So... was Moussauoi the (or, at least, "a") 20th hijacker... or not?
A criminal trial should normally answer such a question-- but this one surely did not!
All *I* got out of the news reports of Moussauoi's trial, as it proceeded, was evidence of a "Guiteauesque" performance on the part of the defendant and quite a bit of reasonable doubt as to just how big a "fish" this alleged "20th Hijacker" might actually have been! And, if Moussauoi is, indeed, not such a big Al Qa'eda fish after all, then what in Heaven's name has his conviction at all to do with 9-11, other than it being a rather lame attempt to make we Americans all feel good about having done "something"- no matter how useless it, in the end, might be- in response to those horrific attacks now over 4 1/2 years ago? All *I* perceived, once Moussauoi was convicted and then sentenced, was yet another demonstration of that very "Action confused with Accomplishment" I so often have decried in my own Commentaries on this here website!
Perhaps, then, the best thing the jury could have done in relation to the whole, sorry episode that was the Zacarias Moussauoi trial was to spare his life in its sentencing recommendation: with so many "holes" in the Moussauoi story, as told by the Feds to the much larger jury that is the American Electorate, a sentence of Death would have only served to make his trial even more of a farce.
As for a probably nutty Guiteau having been executed all those years ago?:
well... at least we know Guiteau actually pulled the trigger!