Respect judge, lawyers in Moussaoui trial

Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.

Conspiracy to commit air piracy.

Conspiracy to destroy aircraft.

Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Conspiracy to commit murder.

Conspiracy to destroy property.

These six indictments – handed down against Zacarias Moussaoui – are the first in the legal war against terrorism. While American troops seek out al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan, Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department have been pursuing those who aided the Sept. 11 attackers.

Moussaoui’s case is an important one because it is the first. Despite a number of questionable decisions made by the Justice Department in pursuit of terrorists, the decision to try Moussaoui in criminal court rather than a secret military tribunal is an admirable one. Seeking a criminal conviction demonstrates the U.S. government’s faith in our criminal justice process. Now the American public’s faith in the system will be tested.

Two lawyers have been appointed to defend Moussaoui, and their role in his trial is the most critical. For justice to be served, they must vehemently defend their client. The American public must recognize that Moussaoui enters the courtroom with the presumption of innocence, a presumption his lawyers must defend. Those who suggest the defense lawyers are helping a terrorist could not be further from the truth. Moussaoui’s lawyers – and attorneys in all cases – play an integral role. Their obligation to exhaust all avenues in pursuit of defending their client will likely make them unpopular figures. But the public must realize they are heroes serv ing to prevent injustice.

The case will be tried in federal court in Virginia and the judge assigned to the case will also be faced with difficult decisions. As the presiding legal authority, he will make decisions that could affect the outcome of the case. The public – one that expects a guilty verdict – must not influence his decisions. Similarly the public must recognize the importance of law and the need for law to supercede the desire to punish someone for the heinous crimes committed.

While the military seeks justice for criminals abroad, the legal system must be responsible for meting out justice here at home. But the government and the people must not be so blinded by revenge they lose sight of the values upon which this country was founded. These values – the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial and the right to confront accusers, to name a few – are so essential to the nation’s well-being that they must not be sacrificed. To do so would damage the nation’s foundation in a way far more harmful than the terrorists could have hoped.