Moussaoui's Mother: "This Is a Show Trial"

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Aicha El Wafi, the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, takes a lunch break during the third day of her son's trial on Mar. 8 in Virginia

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Will you hold America responsible for his unjust death if he's given a death sentence?

No. This isn't about America, or Americans in general. This is one government pushing this. It is true, however, that this trial would have been quite different had it taken place in most other countries. In fact, it might have been stopped before this stage. Had we wanted to mount the best defense possible — one that could strip the manipulation and even lies off the prosecution — we would have needed money. Lots of money. But I'm retired; I don't have any money. And in American courts, that winds up being a big factor. Especially when you're fighting a political machine.

Don't you think the issue of your son's mental stability should have been a major, if not the foremost factor in his defense, especially after he pleaded guilty?

I don't think he is, but I'm not a doctor. They've started trying hard to prove he's crazy. Is he? Are others in my family? I can't say, because I'm not a psychiatrist. What I can say is this: [my children] experienced some very hard, ugly things in life — racism, rejection, injustice, violence — and in some cases have reacted in ways that are just as hard. In some cases, they became really sick. With Zacary, I think he sought out people and ideas as extreme as the humiliation and fury he experienced before he became an Islamist.

In any case, what I can tell you is this: someone who pleads guilty to the charges he has, yet argues he's really only guilty of something unrelated to those charges — the Sept. 11 attacks — may not be crazy, but he's not thinking logically. Which also takes us back to something Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told his interrogators: that Zacarias Moussaoui wasn't reliable enough, that he wasn't part of the Sept. 11 plot. Look at the care the others took to remain secret, not draw attention to themselves, to even play the role of the miscreant to keep anyone of suspecting their real thinking and intentions. Now look at Zacarias Moussaoui's behavior — the one that led to his arrest, and the one in court. You don't think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed didn't have a point when he said my son was unpredictable?

He clearly doesn't appear to have ever kept his emotions closely in check. But do you think he's mentally ill?

I know he's not well generally. He's been in isolation for years! The confinement, being alone, medication he's been given, have all taken a toll on him. Mentally? I'm not a doctor; I can't say.

He actually appears to have become even more defiant and radical since his arrest.

Which perhaps isn't surprising. He joined a sect — an extremist, violent sect. Like others in his case, he underwent a kind of brainwashing — as all people in sects do. Once someone is brainwashed, they are under the control of those they consider their leaders. What happens when they are cut off from those leaders? Zacary seems to have gone even further. Maybe it's like someone who feels like they are in the middle of the sea: they hold on even tighter to the buoy that got them there.

Isn't it difficult to fully support the defense's current tactic of describing your son as mentally ill and bringing his family into it?

Am I excited about depicting my entire family as insane? Not at all! (laughs) And I won't do it — because it's not the case. On the one hand, I want to keep my son alive and will do what I can to achieve that. On the other hand, it's true that it's not a natural human desire to want to go out and say everyone in your family is mentally ill!

There is some history of that, isn't there?

Without succumbing to defensiveness or pride, I think a lot has been said here in the interests of defending my son that is more nuanced than you might have heard. My children have seen hard, hard things. A violent father, racism, rejection, their identity questioned — French-born children of this nation made to feel like they don't belong. Djamila, my oldest daughter, had her head cut open as a child when her father threw a glass at her. Later, she was thrown out of a teenage party she'd been invited to by a father who said Arabs weren't allowed in the house. Three days later, she slit her wrists. She hasn't had an easy life since, and she is, indeed, very sick.

Her father, who was mentally ill when I was married to him [at age 14], though I didn't know it then. We also didn't know he'd been married three times before. He beat me so often you wouldn't believe it if I told you. Once, he grabbed me by the throat, held a knife to it, and said he'd butcher me like a lamb. Another time, he tried to throw me out of a 12-story window. Another, he beat me with a bicycle chain. By the time I took the children and ran away from him, we'd all seen a lot. He's in a hospital now in Paris, where they care for the mentally ill.

Nadia, my other daughter, has had hard times and has bouts of depression, but lots of people do. She's not mentally ill. Neither is my oldest son, Abd Samad, though he is also an Islamist radical: a Habishite, who hates the Wahabists like Zacarias, and consider them traitors and rivals. This is the success story the prosecutors pointed to to prove Zacarias' actions couldn't be the result of family mental histories or other common troubles.

So do you believe Zacarais is mentally ill, or that there's enough evidence of that in the family that illness is a real possibility?

I know he's not well generally speaking. Ill or not, I don't know. What I can say is, I don't understand his thinking.

Do you think he wants to die?

No. It's clear he doesn't. But I know him. When he's confronted with injustice, a deck obviously stacked against him or people like racists making impossible demands, his reaction was always the same: defiant, provocative, and daring his rivals to throw everything at him.

He doesn't want to become a martyr for jihad, an al-Qaeda hero?

No. If he did, he'd have admitted to everything the prosecution is accusing him of from the start, and never contested the death penalty. But he's fighting it because he knows it's not justified for what he did, for what he says.

And this is the terrible irony of this farce: the government, the prosecution, is going to give the extremists the one thing they love most: a martyr for their cause, and a brother to avenge. And for what? Because he got caught before he could do whatever it was he was trying to, and was in jail when the others attacked on Sept. 11? They are dead, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh are under arrest. But it's Zacarias they want to execute. Who will benefit from that? The ones who need martyrs, of course.

Will you go to see him before he's executed, if that's the sentence?

Seeing him is so hard. It takes so long to arrange... Of course, I'd need to see him, speak with him again. He's my son, and I love him no matter what. But these kinds of arrangements can take so long. I'd hope there wouldn't be any rush to get it over with.

This is a hard, hypothetical question, but what would you do if some al-Qaeda leader arranged for you to get the same money that families of suicide bombers in Palestine or other suicide bombers have in the past, as a kind of payment to the Moussaoui family for their martyr?

I'd have none of it, of course. It would repel me; disgust me. If I understand the logic of it correctly, Palestinian families get that kind of payment as compensation for their contribution to the cause. My only cause right now is keeping my son alive, and hoping the injustice of his execution can be avoided. Someone paying money for his death would be at once desecrating and celebrating my defeat in that cause.

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