Friday, July 19, 2002

Just in case anyone might have thought my characterization of the American criminal justice system as a bizarre cult was an exaggeration, the latest development in the Zacarias Moussaoui case should remove all doubt. In a scene straight out of classic film farce, the accused terrorist, having decided for convoluted reasons to confess, shouts at the judge, "I am a member of Al Qaida", and demands to plead guilty. But the judge refuses to accept the plea, and gives him a week to think it over.

One almost feels sympathy for the baffled Moussaoui. He was prepared to die a martyr's death, and probably even to be tortured and executed by the infidels; what he could never have expected was that he would instead be forcibly incorporated into their perverse religious rites. Having firmly and openly declared his guilt, he suddenly finds that guilt or innocence is no longer the issue; rather, he is told that he must follow the holy rules and procedures, which require him to accept the assistance of a cultic acolyte in seeking out instances of ritual impurity in his accusers' performance of the sacred dance of prosecution, and present those instances before a priest of the sect. If they are successful, then the accused wins his freedom; if he fails, he is punished as unworthy, although the choice of punishment is itself a highly ritualized process. (As Judge/Priest Leonie Brinkema tells him, it's "normal, in criminal cases, to plea bargain".)

And if he refuses to embrace this arcane liturgy with all his heart--as Moussaoui is now finding out--he is declared a madman, and is treated as such. For only a lunatic, saith the Priests, would reject any of the true teachings of the Law, or deviate in the slightest from the elaborate ceremonial practices specified therein--by, for instance, blurting out the blindingly obvious truth of his own guilt.

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