The First Mistake
I wish I could say I was surprised by today's verdict, but after all these years of rampant buffoonery in American criminal courts, I really wasn't. If it would have been possible, I wouldn't have been all that surprised if Moussaoui's defense had assembled a jury of cretins blinkered enough to acquit him.
The one and only good thing to come out of this fiasco is that it reveals once again the pointlessness of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue. It's not about crime. It's about war. This waste of oxygen never should have set foot in a civilian court. He is an agent of a hostile foreign power, (albeit not a nation-state, but that's hardly exculpatory) caught red-handed in the act of planning violent attacks on American civilian, military, and government targets. There is no doubt of his guilt; he himself proclaims it with a pathetic sneer.
Like the Nazi sabateours captured during World War II, Moussaoui should have been turned over to the military, tried by a tribunal, and executed. Look at it this way: if we had captured Japanese forward observers just before Pearl Harbor, would they have deserved full constitutional protections and access to the civilian courts?
Of course not. They, like Moussaoui, would have been the very definition of enemy combatants. As a non-uniformed agent, acting without even the orders of a nation-state, Moussaoui didn't even qualify for Geneva Convention protections, much less the full constitutional rights of an American citizen.
All that said, I have no doubt the next floor-flushing scumbag we catch in this country will get the same exact treatment. And he'll probably get off lightly, too.
UPDATE: Several commentors have opined that a life imprisonment sentence is not "getting off lightly," and/or that since Moussaoui stated he wanted to become a martyr, executing him wouldn't have been appropriate in any case.
Two points. One, for a guy who wants to become a martyr, Moussaoui fought awfully hard to avoid a death sentence; at one of his early court appearances, he stated explicitly that he would fight against receiving the death penalty with (if I recall correctly), 'all his strength.'
Second, and far more important, is the message this verdict sends to Moussaoui's fellow Islamofascists. It tells them that America is weak. It tells them Americans don't have the stomach to do what must be done to achieve victory. It tells them our civilian culture doesn't have the fibre to deal seriously with terrorism (and they will, by now, ignore the contradictory lesson of United flight 93). It tells them they can be captured on our soil in the act of committing barbarism, and they will receive not just mercy, but actual succor from a considerable swath of our legal establishment.
It is a bad verdict, and those are very, very bad messages.