A Terrorist's Grand Delusion

This artist's rendering shows Zacarias Moussaoui being questioned by defense lawyer Gerald Zerkin.
This artist's rendering shows Zacarias Moussaoui being questioned by defense lawyer Gerald Zerkin. (By Dana Verkouteren -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Zacarias Moussaoui proved to be about as effective a defense witness as he was a hijacker.

The 9/11 conspirator had planned to fly a hijacked airliner into the White House, but he got arrested before the attack and had to sit it out. Yesterday, fighting the death penalty in an Alexandria courtroom, he took the stand -- over his lawyers' strenuous objections -- and pretty much destroyed the defense his team had built.

He readily agreed that he was part of the 9/11 plot. "I was supposed to pilot a plane to hit the White House," he said, and he knew of the World Trade Center attacks but lied to prevent authorities from stopping them.

"You rejoiced in the fact that Americans were killed?" the prosecutor asked.

"That is correct," Moussaoui said, matter-of-factly.

You called the collapse of the twin towers "gorgeous"?

"Indeed."

You asserted that "3,000 miscreant disbelievers" burned in a "hellfire"?

"That is correct."

The terrorist's lawyers from the public defender's office knew they were undone. "All our hard work down the tubes," one of them lamented to reporters.

Moussaoui acted as if he were the villain on a TV detective show who, confronted with his crime, improbably confesses every detail of the plot -- even volunteering that in e-mails to his handlers he pretended he was writing to a girlfriend and called the attack a "bottle of champagne."

The terrorist gave the prosecutors just what they needed: evidence that his lies to investigators in August 2001 prevented them from thwarting the attack. Just as prosecution witnesses wound up aiding the defense earlier in the trial, Moussaoui was a gift to prosecutors. The Justice Department wants the death penalty; Moussaoui spoke like a man who wants martyrdom.


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