By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 14, 2006; Page A01
Zacarias Moussaoui proudly reaffirmed his involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist plot yesterday and said his only regret was that more Americans didn’t die.
Taking the stand for the second time at his death-penalty trial, Moussaoui calmly and matter-of-factly said that the sobbing Sept. 11 survivors and family members who testified against him were "disgusting," that the testimony of one man who crawled out of his burning Pentagon office was "pathetic" and that executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was "the greatest American."
In this image released by the U.S. District Court, a government exhibit shows a photo of an airplane part found in a crater at the scene in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where United Air Lines Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, that was introduced at the sentencing trial of admitted terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. (AP Photo/U.S. District Court)
In this image released by the U.S. District Court, a government exhibit shows a photo of an airplane part found in a crater at the scene in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where United Air Lines Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, that was introduced at the sentencing trial of admitted terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. (AP Photo/U.S. District Court) (AP)
A 12-member jury has determined that Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty last April to six counts of conspiring with al Qaeda in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is eligible to be executed.
His cool demeanor was on display throughout his cross-examination. Moussaoui laughed when Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Spencer asked if he thought the United States was destined to fall. "I know it, I know it," he said. He stared at Spencer as the prosecutor inquired, "You wake up every day to destroy the United States, don’t you?"
"To the best of my ability," Moussaoui responded.
"It was your choice to accept a suicide mission from Osama bin Laden," Spencer stated.
"It was my pleasure," Moussaoui clarified.
The exchange between the prosecutor and the terrorist came as Moussaoui’s attorneys began their case to spare the convicted al-Qaeda operative’s life. But, just as he did when he testified in the trial’s first phase, Moussaoui may have hamstrung that argument before it began.
His words triggered tears from one family member of a Sept. 11 victim. An official from the U.S. attorney’s office put her arm around the woman and escorted her out. Outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria, Abraham Scott of Springfield, whose wife, Janice Marie Scott, died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, said that hearing Moussaoui again left him feeling "like raw meat, like a pincushion."
"I can’t go beyond that or I’ll go insane," Scott said. "All I care about is putting him to death . . . regardless of what he wants."
What Moussaoui wants, he indicated yesterday, was to live to fight another day. He said he hopes jurors sentence him to life in prison, adding that he told the truth when he testified several weeks ago that he planned to fly a fifth hijacked plane into the White House on Sept. 11. "If I testify truthfully, I know that God will help me and I will not be executed," he said.
He said he was convinced that President Bush would free him in a prisoner exchange and that he would be allowed to return to Europe.
It was unclear how Moussaoui thought his statements would help his case and whether they represented his real feelings. He has gone back and forth on the subject of execution several times since he was charged with conspiring with al-Qaeda in 2001, often seeming to embrace the possibility of death. Some legal experts wondered if he was using reverse psychology with the jurors yesterday, expressing a wish for life when his real aim was to die a martyr.
What was clear was that the more familiar Moussaoui — known for his fiery courtroom speeches and vitriolic pleadings filed from jail — was back. He had sat quietly for most of the trial, but yesterday he proclaimed his hatred for the United States, saying he didn’t care what the jury thought about him because he would be judged only by God.
Moussaoui, 37, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with al-Qaeda in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He is the only person convicted in a U.S. courtroom on charges stemming from Sept. 11. After three weeks of testimony, federal jurors this month said Moussaoui was eligible for execution, finding that his lies to federal agents when he was arrested in August 2001 allowed the attacks to go forward. The jury is now hearing testimony about whether Moussaoui should be put to death.
His testimony yesterday was another significant moment in a sentencing hearing that has had its share of gut-wrenching emotion. Jurors heard from more than 35 family members of Sept. 11 victims who told how the attacks shattered their lives. On Wednesday, prosecutors played a tape of the cockpit voice recorder depicting the struggle of passengers to retake control of United Airlines Flight 93, one of the four planes hijacked Sept. 11.
Yesterday featured more of the role reversals that have come to mark the proceedings. In the trial’s first phase, defense attorneys portrayed their client as a liar after he testified about his planned attack on the White House, while prosecutors said he was telling the truth. Yesterday, prosecutors portrayed Moussaoui as perfectly sane — he happily agreed — while his attorneys, who had fervently opposed his testimony, tried to leave jurors with the impression that he is irrational and delusional.
Questioned by his court-appointed attorney, Gerald T. Zerkin, Moussaoui declared that he thought his attorneys were trying to kill him. He denounced members of the defense team, saying they were more interested in fame than in saving his life and had refused his repeated requests for a Muslim attorney.
Moussaoui said his previous statements, including his wish to be executed as a martyr, were all part of his battle against America. "This is what I call psychological war or propaganda," he said.
Invited by Zerkin to explain why he hates America, Moussaoui said much of the reason is U.S. support for Israel, saying the Jewish state was "a creation of the Jewish community of New York and London. . . . For me, the Jewish state of Palestine is a missing star in the American flag. You are the head of the snake for me. If I want to destroy the Jewish state of Palestine, I have to destroy you."
Staring directly at Zerkin, who is Jewish, Moussaoui calmly said that he and other Muslims want to "exterminate" American Jews. Zerkin stared impassively back.
More incendiary statements followed. Moussaoui said that he had no regrets to offer the Sept. 11 family members who testified and that he finds it "disgusting that some people would come here to share their grief at the death of someone else. . . . Many of them, they will cry, be very emotional, but when they pass by me, they stare at me and they don’t cry."
Asked by Spencer whether he had any regrets at all, Moussaoui said, "There is no regret for justice."
Asked about the testimony of U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Thurman, who recalled how he fled his burning Pentagon office Sept. 11, Moussaoui said: "It was pathetic. I was regretful that he didn’t die."
After Moussaoui endorsed suicide bombing missions as "not crazy but based on Islam," Spencer said softly, "You would do it again tomorrow if you could, wouldn’t you?"
"Today," Moussaoui answered, smiling.