Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Evasion of Responsibility

Any number of Law and Order episodes end with the DA explaining why the murderer can’t be let off the hook because of an unhappy childhood/genetic defect/the bad influence of television shows/whatever because to allow such excuses would destroy all personal responsibility. I’m still waiting for the show in which it is pointed out how often the infliction of heavy penalties on individuals is itself an evasion of responsibility. The semi-moronic monsters routinely put to death in Texas may deserve what they get, but their executions have an added advantage. These grim ceremonies of self-righteousness deflect attention from the fact that the authorities couldn’t be bothered by the abuse and neglect so many of these criminals suffered as children.

The recent efforts of the Federal government to put Zacarias Moussaoui to death have an analogous logic. A number of people have complained about the procedural abuses of the prosecutors in the case—reasonably enough since in an ordinary trial or before a judge with a modicum of integrity, the death penalty would have been taken off the table in the face of such behavior—but I haven’t encountered very many people who recognize the essential dishonesty of the entire proceeding. Moussaoui admitted to planning a terror attack and certainly belongs in prison, but holding him responsible for the 9/11 attacks, which nobody seems to think he had anything to do with, is simply a way for the administration to shift the blame for its own negligence. Moussaoui may not have provided an indirect warning of the possibility of an aerial attack but lots of other warnings were indeed given without effect. 9/11 wasn’t Moussaoui’s fault. It was the fault of Bush, Rice, Ashcroft, and Chaney. Indeed, if you’re in the market for complicated and far-fetched theories to justify prosecutions, it would be marginally more reasonable to execute the five Supreme Court justices who put Bush in office than the bumling, clownish Moussaouoi. Since the competent and vigilant Gore was intensely aware of the danger posed by Ben Laden, et. al, it is extremely unlikely that 9/11 would have occurred under his watch.

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