Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fade to oblivion

Spend much time raising a child, or even talking to someone who does, and you'll learn that sometimes the most effective way to punish disobedient children is not to spank them or put them in timeout but to deprive them of the things they desire the most.

That maxim comes to mind in the debate over whether al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, who was sentenced today to life in prison without parole, deserved to be executed instead. Quite simply, Moussaoui made it abundantly clear that he wanted to die when he took the stand in late March to incriminate himself repeatedly after the government initially botched its death penalty case against him. In his eyes, his execution would have made him a martyr for the twisted version of Islam he supports. It would have secured his place in history. It would have given him what he desired the most.

The jury deprived him of his dream this week. Moussaoui was a sworn enemy of the United States, meaning he would have "declared victory" no matter what sentence the jury returned. But deep down, he has to know that his notoriety is drawing to a close.

As U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told him during his formal sentencing today, "You came here to be a martyr and die in a great big bang of glory, but to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper." Moussaoui will spend decades rotting away in obscurity, alone in a tiny prison cell. By the time he dies, most Americans probably won't even recognize his name.

Moussaoui will live out the rest of his days knowing that his deepest wish -- to be remembered forever -- will never be fulfilled. As punishments go, it just may be the most effective of all.

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