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Arguments begin this week in the sentencing trial of a man accused of conspiracy in my mother's murder. The U.S. government wants to put the confessed terrorist to death. But I want him to live. And I think Mom would, too.
The accused, Zacarias Moussaoui, has admitted he is a member of al-Qaeda and has publicly pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Last April, he pleaded guilty to the six terrorism conspiracy charges, admitting his intent to commit terrorism and aircraft piracy, and to use weapons of mass destruction. His admission earns him life in prison. The reason for the trial is to put him to death, thereby doing to him what he was willing to do to himself.
My mom, Judy Larocque, was murdered by madmen who yearned to die in their crazed belief that slamming the plane she had the misfortune to board into the World Trade Center in New York would bring them everlasting paradise. As a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001, Mom was granted neither a trial nor justice when she unwittingly became part of their evil plan.
Now, the government wants to put to death a man who it says had foreknowledge of the plot that killed my mom and 2,971 others. This man says that he was not supposed to be part of the 9/11 plan, but that he was going to "martyr" himself at a later date by crashing a plane into the White House. This man wants to die. So why is the government fighting to give him what he wants? A U.S. attorney close to the investigation denied that that was the government's intent. He explained that Moussaoui does not want to die at the hands of American officials and American courts.
But I disagree. Moussaoui wanted to tear the bonds that hold our country together — in the case of 9/11, literally limb by limb. His ongoing antics and sporadic outbursts in the courtroom, sometimes leading to his removal, have done just that, making a mockery of the trial.
The U.S. government should not give him a forum. He pleaded guilty to crimes that require life in prison. Let's give it to him. Take him away, so we don't have to hear from him again.
My opposition to his execution does not stem from compassion. Quite the contrary. Rather, it stems from two thoughts — one rational, the other pure emotion.
First, it costs more to put Moussaoui to death, according to several state studies cited by the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment.
In Moussaoui's case, there wouldn't even have to be a trial if U.S. officials agreed that life in prison was enough for the terrorist. They don't, and are prepared to spend millions arguing the case.
I prefer to see that money spent on almost anything else rather than on Moussaoui. Give it to the families of soldiers fighting Moussaoui's allies in Afghanistan, give it to New York City firefighters to buy walkie-talkies that work, but don't give it to a confessed terrorist seeking an audience.
The second reason is embarrassing to admit but true. I want Moussaoui to die a slow, painful death. I do not want to give him the dignity of a planned execution, time to say his goodbyes, eat his last meal. His comrades did not give that to my mother. Let him sit in a cold, dirty cell alone for the rest of his long days, unable to direct his rants at anyone.
True to Mom
I know that some 9/11 families will not agree with me, and I respect their views.
If I learned anything after Mom's murder, it is that we all grieve differently. But I also know that I have to be true to myself, and to Mom. This realization hit me when I was standing in my shower last week and the song on the radio made me cry.
"She's gone so long. What can I do? Where could she be? ... Don't know what I'm gonna do
"I gotta get back to you."
Sweet Talkin' Woman by '70s rock sensation Electric Light Orchestra was my favorite song when I was2 years old. At my insistence, my mom played the record over and over as I danced in circles, screaming the words at the top of my lungs. But now those words have another meaning, one I did not fully understand until Mom's murder.
Getting back to Mom means getting back to living as she would want me to, dancing as I did when I was 2. But I cannot enjoy my life with the heavy conscience of someone who has been involved in taking one.
I would rather spend my energy getting back to living a life Mom would be proud of. Because, as the song's final line reminded me when I stood sobbing in the shower, it's so sad if that's the way it's over.
Carie Lemack, a student in the Kennedy School's MPA program, is co-founder of Families of September 11 and a member of the Department of Homeland Security's Aviation Security Advisory Council.