Making sense of Moussaoui
What do you do with a problem like Moussaoui? A fanatical guy who really would like to blow things up, but didn't, actually, blow anything up.
Well, if you're the United States government, you bungle it, dismissing evidence available before 9/11 that would have possibly stopped the attacks and then, after the attacks, arresting Moussaoui, and holding him without charges for over two years while you try and create a case out of not much at all.
But if your "a jury of his peers," more or less, in this case, you get it right. Sentencing him to life in prison for his attempts to commit major crimes, but not actually sentencing him to death when the guy didn't actually do anything.* Dahlia Lithwick puts it like this:
This case was about a conspiracy, about some factual connection, however attenuated, between Zacarias Moussaoui's jihadi heart and the events of 9/11. And although the government has steadfastly stood by its legal claim that it was enough for Moussaoui to have wanted to be on those planes on 9/11, enough for him to have delighted as those planes went down, the jurors recognized this afternoon that a conspiracy to aid in a terror plot requires more than just a bad heart, and more than mere willingness to participate in the next one....
Acting as a check on a runaway state, these jurors refused to allow a government needing a scapegoat and a man wishing for martyrdom to stand in the way of the facts. These jurors understood that for this country to kill a terrorist for his ideas, hopes, and dreams is not much different than the terrorist's desire to come here and kill us for ours.
*Yes, all the other criticisms of the death penalty for those people who did do what they were accused of doing still stand)