Saturday, July 22, 2006

Thinking of Zacharias Moussaoui

A few months ago Zacharias Moussaoui was convicted of having some part in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and was sentenced to life in prison. That he wasn't executed is a victory of sorts for opponents of capital punishment, but not really a victory for the principle of humane and just treatment for offenders
Consider the statement at this website. Note that the writer feels life imprisonment was a more appropriate sentence than death, but note also the reasons:.
Second, by sentencing Moussaoui to life in prison at the federal Supermax facility in Colorado, we have done far worse than put him to death. He will be in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. He will have no visitors. He will have no contact with other inmates. He will be locked in his cell 23 hours a day. The only persons he will see will be the guards who will deliver his meals three times a day or escort him to a room for his daily 60 minute exercise period. That is it. He may, on occasion, be visited by some law enforcement or governmental official, but that's all. No friends. No relatives. No imams. Nobody.

To reiterate, we have done far worse than kill him. We have made him a non-entity, a living ghost who will quickly fade out of the the public's memory. And then he will die, as the presiding judge said, quoting T.S.Eliot, “with a whimper.” I can think of no better fate for him.

I am not an expert on the facts of Moussaoui's case. I don't know whether he actually had a role in 9/11, or whether he actually knew when and where it would take place. The jury heard the evidence and concluded that he did, so I tentatively assume that they are correct. I also don't know whether Moussaoui was mentally ill - though some of his actions and statements suggest that to a non-medical person like me. I certainly acknowledge, based on things he said in court, that he was a person filled with rage and that he directed that rage at all Americans (among others) - presumably including (not to be personal about it) ... me. So I have no problem seeing that innocent people should be protected from him, even if this means confining him for life.


If the above description of conditions for his confinement are accurate, I find them absolutely horrifying and absolutely unjustified. What could motivate such treatment except society's rage at his crime? How does this cruelty in any way redeem the suffering of the victims of 9/11? How does it advance justice? Or peace?

Jesus urged his followers to 'love your enemies and do good to those who hate you' (Luke 6:27-28). I have not taken this to mean that we necessarily have to feel warm and tender emotions toward specific people, but that we should intend (and act for) their good rather than their harm. Jesus modelled this attitude himself, even on the cross. Millions of people who think of themselves as followers of Jesus do not seem to want to apply this teaching in cases like Moussaoui's, but it seems to me that if we really become His Friends we will become able to do so: not only in the case of big and public and 'political' cases like Moussaoui's but in our daily interactions with "enemies" whose actions are merely inconvenient or annoying rather than evil.

I claim no great acheivement on this score, but I at least feel clear about what the direction should be.

I also wonder whether in fact Moussaoui is permitted visitors and whether he gets any? Is there anyone anywhere still looking out for his welfare, able to communicate with him and listen to him? Are Friends or others concerned for his rights and willing to believe that he is capable of growth?

These are sobering questions. I have been pondering them from some time and feel no clearness at all about what can be done.

- - Rich

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Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Dear Rich,
I do not know if there will be any restrictions on visitors placed on Zacharias Moussaoui, but my wife Ceal and I visited there last year as part of our PVS (Prisoner Visitation & Support) training. All the visitation there is through glass, there is no physical contact, which is usually permitted at other federal prisons. At the highest level of security, the prisoners aren't even allowed to handle their own mail, they have to read it on the TV screen in their cell. There are people from PVS who visit at the Supermax regularly, so if he was allowed visitors and requested a PVS visit, I'm sure it would happen.

Also, I don't know if they have a prison Imam there, but there is a chaplain who visits the prisoners. The chaplain we met was named Keith Powley and I can only say that it fills my heart with joy that such a man is available to those men in that prison. He genuinely cares about those men, and you can tell that he has an effect. When he walked into the visiting room, you could see the faces of some of the prisoners brighten. He would smile and greet each one of them, often with a gesture of putting his hand to his heart and then extending it towards them.

One reason that certain prisoners are not allowed contact with the rest of the prison population is to prevent them from being killed by the other inmates. There are a number of gang leaders who are there for the same reason. I'm not trying to justify this, but I don't think it is fair to demonize the prison system by suggesting that it is just done solely out of cruelty.

I am not sure what Friends can do in Zacharias Moussaoui's case, but I would like to point out that PVS is always looking for volunteers to visit men in federal and military prisons. It only takes one day a month of your time. I didn't start this post in order to advertise for PVS, but I do feel that it does help us respond in some way. Incidentally, one of the founders of PVS (Faye Honey Knopp) was a Quaker and started it as a ministry to men jailed for refusing to serve in the military.
With love,

6:05 PM, July 22, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks very much to Mark for the information he provided.

I didn't mean to "demonize" the prison system and I understand that it may sometimes be necessary to protect prisoners from each other. The writer I quoted, however, seemed to take great satisfaction that Moussaoui would have essentially zero contact with anyone. He was not, of course, a prison official. There may be some prison officials who share that attitude, but I don't assume that all do so.

I am delighted to hear of Keith Powley's work and to be reminded of the Prison Volunteer Service. I met Faye Honey Knopp once many years ago on a visit to Wilton Meeting and was favorably impressed. At the time I thought I was facing federal imprisonment myself and so took a particular selfish interest in her work. (My fears proved unfounded; the judge in my case was disinclined to put a Quaker draft resister in prison).

In writing the above post, I hope it's clear that I am not giving myself any points for "thinking" about Moussaoui or other prisoners. Those who are actually doing something are really the ones doing God's work (whether they think of it that way or not).
- - Rich

10:25 AM, July 23, 2006  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Dear Rich,
I share your concern over the attitude of that writer, and with the attitude of many in our society with regard to prisons. It seems that many people consider prisoners to be less than human, so then anything that is done to them is justified. You hear people refer to prisoners as "animals" and "monsters", and I think that deep down this is a way to try to ease their own consciences.
With love,

12:16 PM, July 23, 2006  
Blogger Lorcan said...

Ritchie, this is a great post... but will ye write something else already!? Is it too hot, does thee need an airconditioner? Oh my... what can we do to get thee to write. Ok... Remember that weekend in 1979, in you know where, write something or I will post all the details with photos!!!

11:32 PM, August 29, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I'm glad Lorcan is eager for me to post again. It's probably going to happen soon.

As for "that weekend" in 1979: It reminds me of something someone said about another decade. "If you remember the 1960's, you weren't really participating." (and in that sense, I actually wasn't).

- - Rich

9:36 AM, August 30, 2006  
Blogger Paul L said...

I've been thinking about Brooklyn Quaker. I miss hearing from you.

12:55 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks to Paul for noticing my absence.

I have worked a little on some new posts, but have also been dealing with a perfect storm of various problems affecting assorted family members.

I should be posting again fairly soon.

- - Rich

4:20 PM, November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have also been thinking about you and missing you in the various discussions around the blogosphere. I hope you are doing well and that the family issues aren't overwhelming you.
With love,

9:24 PM, December 11, 2006  

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