The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment

By Franklin E. Zimring | Go to book overview

3
The Symbolic Transformation of
American Capital Punishment

A STUNNING DEMONSTRATION of the great gulf that has opened between the United States and other Western nations on the death penalty occurred in March 2002, as the U.S. Justice Department was deciding to seek the death penalty in its prosecution of a French national of Moroccan descent named Zacarias Moussaoui. The American government had alleged that Moussaoui was to have been “the twentieth hijacker” on September 11, 2001. This conspirator was prevented from filling out the five-person team on United Airlines flight 73 that crashed in Pennsylvania only because he was confined in jail for visa violations. The U.S. government wished to treat this defendant as fully accountable for the program of mass destruction. It sought both a death penalty and the cooperation of the French government in making its case against Moussaoui.

There was substantial sentiment for cooperation with American anti— terrorist efforts in France after the events of September 11. The French government had suspended its usual reserve and independence from American concerns after the suicide attacks; French President Jacques Chirac was the first foreign head of state to visit Washington with pledges of support in September 2001, and observers were quick to note that France had become “one of the staunchest public supporters of President Bush's ‘war on terrorism.’” Both President Chirac and the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, had pledged French “diplomatic, intelligence, and military support for a lengthy campaign to identify and destroy extreme Islamic groups around the world” (Lichfield 2001). “‘We are all Americans,’ French

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