Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Mouss that Roared (updated)

Original Post: April 5

Is Zararias Moussaoui a dangerous terrorist, or just a narcissistic raving lunatic? Or is he both? Ever since Moussaoui was captured in the weeks before 9/11, I have often wondered the answer to that question, especially given his weird behavior in court. Moussaoui's conduct in court has drifted between near-comical disdain, and self-destructive undermining of his own case.

Most recently, Moussaoui decimated his own defense case by admitting in front of the jury that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were supposed to hijack a fifth plane and fly it into the White House.

Before being muzzled by Judge Leonie Brinkema, Moussaoui's conduct in the early part of the trial was even more bizarre. Acting as his own counsel, he submitted a flood of handwritten filings to the court, lashing out at Brinkema, Ashcroft, and the whole court system. Rather than going into a detailed descripion, I'll let Moussaoui speak for himself.

Perhaps the looniest of the written briefs Moussaoui filed is this one, titled "KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT DUMHAM (sic)," where Moussauoi petitioned the judge to, "shut the mouth of her wannabe superstar," - Moussaoui's own lawyer Frank Dunham.

Another comical one is this, where Moussaoui asks Judge Brinkema to send Attorney General John Ashcroft a "coupon" asking whether Moussaoi is the "20th Hijacker", the "5th plane Pilot Missing in Action", "I Ashcroft don't know", or "let's kill him anyway."

This next one is just totally bizarre, petitioning the court that the "5th PLANE MUST LAND ON MOUSSAOUI RUNAWAY (sic)", and that the "Court of Appall (sic)" should force the "uncompetent" Ashcroft to disclose the 5th plane is "missing in action".

If I didn't know Moussaoui was in jail, I'd think he was drunk or perhaps stoned on marijuana when he wrote this. I can't imagine someone in their right mind writing this, can you?

This next rant starts out with an all-caps diatribe towards "Death Judge Lieoni Brinkema" (note the play on the judge's first name).

This next rant is addressed to the "Court of Appall of 9th Circus". This childish play on words seems like something I'd expect to find written in crayon.

This next filing asks Judge Brinkema to "stop playing games with my life."

Or this "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION" rant aimed at the "Court of Appall of the 4th Circus".

Or this one ranting about "ASHCROFT POLITICAL SENSURE (sic) OF THE TRUTH".

Is Zacarias Moussaoi a dangerous terrorist or a raving lunatic? Senior al-Qaeda detainees like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed have described Moussaoui as too unstable to have been used for the original 9/11 attacks - a "misfit" who refused to follow orders. Certainly there is an abundance of evidence showing Moussaoui's connections to al-Qaeda, but nothing other than his own testimony connecting him to 9/11.

Is it possible that Moussaoui's stunning admission in court was nothing but a self-aggrandizing lie; an attempt to pump up his own ego, to make others think he was the big bad terrorist he never was able to be? Perhaps Moussauoi's own statement to FBI agent James Fitzgerald explains his mindset, that it is "different to die in a battle ... than in a jail on a toilet." Moussaoui evidently preferred a quick death where some might view him as a martyr, over a slow and ignominious rotting away in a jail cell.

Who is Moussaoui? To me, he seems rather like the Inspector Clouseau of terrorism, the bungling and narcissistic idiot who none of the other terrorists trusted to get the job done. Don't get me wrong, a lunatic like Moussaoui would be quite dangerous with a weapon, and I would not want to see him out walking around on the street. But, does Moussauoi deserve the death penalty, or to be committed to an insane asylum?

Update: April 13

Moussoui took the stand today in the penalty phase of his trial, against his own lawyers' advice, and completely trashed his own case. Over the span of three hours, Moussaoui launched into a tirade, testifying that he had "no regret, no remorse" over 9/11, that he is willing to kill Americans "anytime, anywhere", and that his only regret about 9/11 was that there weren't more attacks: "I just wish it could have gone on the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, the 15th, the 16th, the 17th. We can go on and on."

Moussaoui even made the bizarre prediction that he would be released soon, saying he had a dream that George Bush would have him released before his term is up.

What is troubling to me about Moussaoui's tirade is that it seemed too much like a calculated attempt to scare the jury into sentencing him to death. First, he tries to offend everyone on the jury and to make the jury hate him, then he makes the jury fear what he'd do if he got out of jail, then he raises the spectre of him getting out of jail by talking about his dream of Bush releasing him. It troubles me that Moussaoui may be doing a lot of lying, aggrandizing, and exaggerating here, in a calculated attempt to get himself the death panalty. Here are two quotes from Moussaoui that seem to belie his mental state:

"The greatest jihad in Islam is to speak the truth and be executed for it." (one of Moussaoui's filings to the court)

"It is different to die in a battle ... than in a jail on a toilet." (Moussaoui's statement to FBI agent James Fitzgerald)

Is Moussaoui speaking the truth, or is he just seeking "martyrdom" in his own mind? From his behavior, Zacarias Moussaoui wants desperately to be executed - he wants America to kill him.

And, a bigger question: are Moussaoui's delusions about martyrdom and his own narcissistic behavior evidence of a deeper underlying psychiatric illness?

Update (May 3)

The jury has reached a sentence: life in prison. And, in doing so, I think they proved the effectiveness of the US justice system.

Zacarias Moussaoui is definitely someone I am glad to have behind bars, but at the same time, given his apparent insanity, he is not someone I would feel comfortable executing. Moussaoui is a deranged lunatic, with grandiose narcissistic illusions of being a warrior in a cohesive global jihad against the "great Satan", and of being a key player in the 9/11 attacks. But, just because Moussaoui, in his own deranged mind, believes this fallacy to be real does not make it real; and just because his deranged mind believes that he merits the death penalty does not mean that he really does merit this ultimate punishment.

Fortunately, the jury was able to see through Moussaoui's façade and through all the hype and rhetoric surrounding this case, and was able to reach a just sentence.