Which One Was Not Like The Others?

If federal jurors here in Alexandria, Va. ultimately believe Moussaoui — and surely there is some sort of gravitational pull that would make them want to believe him since he is such an attractive target of scorn and revenge — it will be easier for them to hold him responsible for the thousands of murders committed on Sept. 11, 2001. The more jurors believe there is a link between Moussaoui and Sept. 11, the more involved they believe he was, the more likely they are to conclude that his failure to tell the truth to authorities when arrested deprived the government of its last best chance to prevent the attacks. And if the jury reaches that conclusion, Moussaoui is virtually a dead man walking.

On the other hand, if jurors tend to believe Moussaoui's employers, the true leaders of Al Qaeda back in the late summer of 2001, it will be harder for the panel to believe that Moussaoui is doing anything other than exaggerating his role as a bad guy in order to die as a martyr, slain by his hated America. After all, if he was as small a fry as they claim he was, if he was so out of the loop, and in such disfavor and disrepute, he would have been unlikely to have been able to tell the authorities much of anything important back when he was arrested in Minnesota on immigration charges a few weeks before Sept 11.

It's ironic, of course, that the only criminal trial we are ever likely to see arising out Sept. 11 likely will turn on which confessed terrorist is a more credible witness. But this case has been soaked with irony, especially when you consider that it is people like Mohammed, Khallad and al-Qahtani, and not Moussaoui, who ought to be on trial for their lives. They, not him, after all, are the true masterminds of the attack. They, not him, knew every operational detail, including the date. They, not him, conceived of the dastardly use of planes as missiles. They, not him, kept secret their secrets. And yet they are being used as witnesses in his case. That's like Don Corleone being used as a witness in the mob trial of Enzo, the baker.

During the height of the vital name-calling Tuesday, Moussaoui closed his eyes in court for minutes at a time. He probably wasn't sleeping but surely it must have been hard for him to hear his heroes say such embarrassing things about him. Among gruesome terrorists, surely, there are points of pride and no one could come away from Tuesday's testimony sure that Moussaoui is nearly the warrior he wants jurors to believe he is. He talked the talk all right on Monday. But his former buddies on Tuesday, one after the other, told the panel that he never came close to walking the walk.

By Andrew Cohen