Trial of terror suspect illustrates adage about self representation

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2002

"If there is any truth to the old proverb that 'one who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,' the Court ... now bestows a constitutional right on one to make a fool of himself."

- The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in a dissenting opinion on a court ruling that allows defendants to represent themselves, on June 30, 1975.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the one man who faces charges for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, asked a federal judge Monday to allow him to fire his court-appointed attorneys. He wants to represent himself and hire a Muslim attorney.

In the next breath, he prayed out loud for the destruction of the United States and Israel.

If convicted for conspiring with 19 other hijackers and Osama bin Laden, Moussaoui could be sentenced to die. He is accused of being the 20th hijacker, the one who didn't make his flight. He had been snared by the Immigration and Naturalization Service after a Minnesota flight school became suspicious when he sought flying lessons, but didn't want to learn how to take off or land.

Moussaoui is a French citizen of Moroccan heritage and doesn't know the intricacies of the U.S. judicial system. This became evident during his hour-long soliloquy, in which he demanded the return of vast regions of Europe, Africa and Asia to Muslim rule, and called for the destruction of Jews everywhere.

And he told the judge he didn't want a jury, that a judge was all he needed.

Although the Justice Department is horrified with the prospect of having to face a Muslim fanatic who is willing to use the court as a stage for airing his evil anti-Semitic propaganda, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of such self-representation in the past, as long as the defendant-attorney is mentally sound. Before allowing him to take such a risk, the judge wisely ordered Moussaoui to be evaluated by psychiatrists.

Moussaoui may not technically be crazy, but he believes his court-appointed attorneys are part of a greater conspiracy to execute him (or so he says). Since he refers to himself as Allah's slave, we wonder why he doesn't welcome his own execution. After all, in his belief system, Allah would reward him handsomely for his martyrdom.

Moussaoui's foolish request to act as his own legal counsel is an illustration of just how different a reality he exists in. Unfortunately, he is not unlike thousands or perhaps millions of Muslim extremists who wish death and destruction on every religious and social system but their own.

--Augusta Chronicle

April 24

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