Moussaoui’s last gasp

A federal judge sentenced Zacarias Moussaoui Thursday to a grim future in a maximum-security prison, telling the al Qaeda conspirator he will “die with a whimper,” not in a “great big bang of glory” as he had hoped.

During an emotional, at times fiery sentencing hearing in which Moussaoui again spouted his contempt for America, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told him he will spend the rest of his life in a “super-maximum security facility.” But federal officials declined to say when the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin will be transferred to the “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colo., _ known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

A day after a jury nixed a death penalty for Moussaoui, lawyers and courtroom observers tried to sort out how the jury came to its decision after seven days of deliberation. People close to the case said it appeared that one to three jurors held out, apparently adamant that Moussaoui’s role in the Sept. 11 plot was too minor to warrant execution.

Moussaoui’s move to Florence is likely to occur soon, so that the Alexandria city jail can dispense with machine gun-toting guards who arrived with him four-and-a-half years ago.

At Florence, he is expected to be housed in what amounts to solitary confinement in a 76-foot by 86-foot cell for 23 hours a day, with an hour for outdoor exercise. His fellow inmates _ though he won’t be able to talk with them _ will include notorious figures on “bombers’ row:” Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, anti-abortion bomber Eric Rudolph, would-be al Qaeda shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Carla Wilson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, declined to confirm that Moussaoui will be transferred to Florence’s Administrative Maximum facility. But that is considered a foregone conclusion, since the decade-old, triangular prison in southern Colorado is the only federal “Supermax.”

Wilson said inmates there have a shower, toilet, bed, desk and television in their compact cells and are allowed to watch educational and religious programming honoring all faiths over closed-circuit television. She said the cells have long, narrow windows facing the courtyard _ “there are no mountain views.”

Meantime, French officials said they may eventually press the United States to let Moussaoui serve his sentence in his homeland under two conventions covering the transfer of convicts.

Three people who lost their spouses when a plane crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, accepted Brinkema’s invitation to speak during the sentencing and confronted Moussaoui with their anger and pain.

Rosemary Dillard, the first of the trio to step to the podium, turned to the defendant a few feet away and said in a loud, angry voice: “You wrecked my life, wrecked my career, took the most important person in my life from me. …

“We watch you twiddle at your beard and make faces and feel no remorse. I hope that you sit in that jail without seeing the sky, without seeing the sun and without any contact with the world … I feel nothing but disgust.”

She was followed by Abraham Scott, who lost his wife of 23 years, and Lisa Dolan, widow of Navy Capt. Bob Dolan.

Taking his turn, Moussaoui looked them in the eyes and again voiced his defiance, cursing America’s “hypocrisy” and shouting his belief that President Bush will release him before leaving office.

Seizing one last public stage in a deep, raspy voice, he told Dillard sarcastically in his broken English: “Maybe one day she can think how many people the CIA have destroyed their life. You say we are a hate organization. I say the CIA is a peace and love organization.”

Noting that Dolan’s husband worked on a warship, he said: “You have an amount of hypocrisy beyond any belief … Your humanity is a very selective humanity.”

Moussaoui pleaded guilty a year ago to six counts of joining in an al Qaeda conspiracy to seize and crash U.S. jetliners into prominent buildings. Prosecutors sought his execution for lying to federal agents after his Minneapolis arrest in mid-August 2001 to conceal the hijacking plot.