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Judge Sends Moussaoui to Prison for Life

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man charged in this country in connection with the September 11th terrorist attacks, has been formally sentenced to life in prison without parole. In the past hour, a federal judge in Virginia handed down the sentence one day after a jury rejected the government's case to have Moussaoui executed. NPR's Larry Abramson has been covering this trial, and he joins me from the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. And Larry, I gather this proceeding was largely a formality. The judge was required to sentence Moussaoui to life. Any surprises?

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Yes, there was a surprise, actually. As you mentioned, the sentence that was decided on by the jury yesterday was legally binding on the judge, and so this was just supposed to be a formality, but she did ask if any of the victims who were in the audience, the victim's families, wanted to speak. And three of them actually stood up and made very dramatic statements. Rosemary Dillard, who lost her husband in the attack on the Pentagon, said--turned to Moussaoui directly and said, I want you to know you wrecked my life. You took the most important person in my life. And she said, everyday I sit there and watch you twittling your beard, and think about how you've wrecked my life. My husband should still be alive. She told him, I hope you sit in jail without seeing sky, without seeing sun, without any contact, and that your name never comes up in any newspapers ever again. She said she felt nothing but disgust for Zacarias Moussaoui, and then two of the other victims' families who were in the audience made similar statements, directing Moussaoui very directly.

MONTAGNE: And from what I understand, Moussaoui responded, but was entirely unrepentant.

ABRAMSON: Absolutely. He got up to the witness stand and said, I prepared something to say to the audience, but I would rather respond to the three victims' families. The first woman said that I destroyed her life, Moussaoui said. Maybe someday she will see how many people's lives were destroyed by the CIA. So he remained very combative. He said her husband was a naval officer, and then very sarcastically, he said, of course he was working for peace and love. Your humanity is a very selective humanity, he said. You have branded me as a terrorist, you should look about yourself first. And then the prosecutor, Rob Spencer, interrupted and said that Moussaoui cannot make a political speech. The judge agreed, and with that, Moussaoui said, well, you know, this is what I want to say. If you don't hear what I have to say, then you, America, will feel what we have to say.

MONTAGNE: And what was the judge's response?

ABRAMSON: The judge actually made a very patriotic speech about what a great testimony this whole--testament this whole trial was to the American legal system. And she also addressed Moussaoui. She said, Mr. Moussaoui, everybody here can go outside and feel the sun. You, however, will spend the rest of your life in a super max, secure federal facility. He interrupted her at that point and said, that's my choice, and the judge said, it was hardly your choice. She said it was a great win for the American people, that the prosecutors and defense had done a nearly impossible job with an absolutely impossible defendant.

And then she turned to Moussaoui and said, you came here to be a martyr, but to paraphrase T.S. Elliot, you will die with a whimper. And as Moussaoui was being led out after the judge was finished and had actually handed down the sentence, Moussaoui said I will be free, and my liberation will be proof that we are the soldiers of God. I will see you before the end of George W. Bush. And Renee, of course, that is a reference to the fact that Moussaoui apparently still believes that George W. Bush is going to free him in prison before the president's term ends in January of 2009.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly tell us about that super maximum prison that Zacarias Moussaoui is going to. A bit of a rogue's gallery.

ABRAMSON: It is. The Unabomber is there. A lot of terrorists, Sheik Abdel Rahman is there, who--Moussaoui at one point said he was supposed to used as a hostage, that he was going to stage a hostage taking in order to free Rahman. So they will all be together there, although they won't really see each other because the Florence, Colorado facility where he's probably going to go will basically mean that he will be in solitary confinement. He won't have any contact with the outside world, and we may never hear him again.

MONTAGNE: Larry, thank you. That's NPR's Larry Abramson at the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.