Moussaoui Will Not 'Rot' in Jail

I join the millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed, indeed angered, by the jury's decision to sentence 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to life in prison, instead of to death.  Peggy Noonan  rightly called the decision a "failure of nerve," and the National Review hit the nail on the head when it said that the verdict is a "discouraging barometer" of the nation's commitment to the war on terror.

Not surprisingly, the liberal media and legal establishments have been trying to put a positive spin on this terrible result, by arguing that life in prison is a "worse" punishment than death.  What rubbish. 

The notion that life in prison is "worse" than death is complete nonsense.  How many convicted criminals request the death penalty instead of a life sentence?  I am quite confident that the number, whatever it is, is so small as to prove my point.

More importantly, life in prison — at least in federal prison — is not the hell hole of violence, rape, and mayhem depicted in the movies. Federal prisons are very well—managed.  And federal prisoners have rights.  They have First Amendment rights to send and receive mail, to complain about prison conditions, to file lawsuits, to possess political literature, and to practice their religion.  They have an Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  They have a right to reasonable prison conditions.  They have a right to nutritious meals.  They have a right to appropriate medical care.  And so on.

Of course, all of these rights are subject to 'legitimate penological objectives,' including the paramount need to maintain a safe and orderly prison environment.  So, yes, prisoners have fewer rights than the general population, and enjoy even fewer privileges and amenities (they are prisoners, after all).  But there is nothing remotely 'dungeon' like — let alone, 'hell' like — about modern prisons, especially federal prisons.  Even the 'supermax' prison in Colorado, where Moussaoui likely will be sent, is hardly the stuff of nightmares.

According to news reports and information available online, cells at the supermax are 77 to 87 square feet in size (about the size of a small bedroom); each cell contains a bed, shower, sink, toilet, metal mirror, and television (that supposedly shows only 'educational' programming); and family members, lawyers, and significant others are allowed to visit inmates (albeit in a separate visiting room).  See here, here, and here.  True, Moussaoui will be allowed out of his cell for only 1 hour each day (what about on visiting days?).  And his contacts with other inmates, as well as the outside world, will be strictly limited.  But Devil's Island it's not.  

Hence, the notion that Moussaoui will 'rot' in prison (which is the line of bull offered by a prison expert who testified on behalf of the defense at Moussaoui's trial) is completely wrong.  For the next 40 or 50 years, Moussaoui will be well cared—for by federal prison authorities (at taxpayer expense).  He will be protected by a panoply of constitutional and statutory rights.  He may not like being in prison — he's not supposed to.  But he won't be made to suffer for his heinous crimes, beyond the loss of his personal freedom.  While no decent, law—abiding person would wish such a penalty upon himself or a loved one, the point is that life in prison most certainly is not 'worse' than death.

Whether or not America 'lost' in this matter, it is quite clear that Moussaoui won.

Steven M. Warshawsky frequently comments on politics and current affairs for The American Thinker and other conservative websites. Contact him here.

I join the millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed, indeed angered, by the jury's decision to sentence 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to life in prison, instead of to death.  Peggy Noonan  rightly called the decision a "failure of nerve," and the National Review hit the nail on the head when it said that the verdict is a "discouraging barometer" of the nation's commitment to the war on terror.

Not surprisingly, the liberal media and legal establishments have been trying to put a positive spin on this terrible result, by arguing that life in prison is a "worse" punishment than death.  What rubbish. 

The notion that life in prison is "worse" than death is complete nonsense.  How many convicted criminals request the death penalty instead of a life sentence?  I am quite confident that the number, whatever it is, is so small as to prove my point.

More importantly, life in prison — at least in federal prison — is not the hell hole of violence, rape, and mayhem depicted in the movies. Federal prisons are very well—managed.  And federal prisoners have rights.  They have First Amendment rights to send and receive mail, to complain about prison conditions, to file lawsuits, to possess political literature, and to practice their religion.  They have an Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  They have a right to reasonable prison conditions.  They have a right to nutritious meals.  They have a right to appropriate medical care.  And so on.

Of course, all of these rights are subject to 'legitimate penological objectives,' including the paramount need to maintain a safe and orderly prison environment.  So, yes, prisoners have fewer rights than the general population, and enjoy even fewer privileges and amenities (they are prisoners, after all).  But there is nothing remotely 'dungeon' like — let alone, 'hell' like — about modern prisons, especially federal prisons.  Even the 'supermax' prison in Colorado, where Moussaoui likely will be sent, is hardly the stuff of nightmares.

According to news reports and information available online, cells at the supermax are 77 to 87 square feet in size (about the size of a small bedroom); each cell contains a bed, shower, sink, toilet, metal mirror, and television (that supposedly shows only 'educational' programming); and family members, lawyers, and significant others are allowed to visit inmates (albeit in a separate visiting room).  See here, here, and here.  True, Moussaoui will be allowed out of his cell for only 1 hour each day (what about on visiting days?).  And his contacts with other inmates, as well as the outside world, will be strictly limited.  But Devil's Island it's not.  

Hence, the notion that Moussaoui will 'rot' in prison (which is the line of bull offered by a prison expert who testified on behalf of the defense at Moussaoui's trial) is completely wrong.  For the next 40 or 50 years, Moussaoui will be well cared—for by federal prison authorities (at taxpayer expense).  He will be protected by a panoply of constitutional and statutory rights.  He may not like being in prison — he's not supposed to.  But he won't be made to suffer for his heinous crimes, beyond the loss of his personal freedom.  While no decent, law—abiding person would wish such a penalty upon himself or a loved one, the point is that life in prison most certainly is not 'worse' than death.

Whether or not America 'lost' in this matter, it is quite clear that Moussaoui won.

Steven M. Warshawsky frequently comments on politics and current affairs for The American Thinker and other conservative websites. Contact him here.