MARGARET WARNER: Zacarias Moussaoui was the chief witness today as the defense began presenting its case for not executing him. An Alexandria, Virginia, federal jury, which found Moussaoui guilty in the 9/11 attacks last week, will decide in this phase whether to give him life in prison or the death penalty.
Jerry Markon of the Washington Post has been covering the trial and joins us now from outside the federal courthouse.
Jerry, the reports are that this morning, at least, Moussaoui told the jury he didn't want to die, he does not want to be a, quote, unquote, "martyr." Is that right? Tell us about that.
JERRY MARKON, Reporter, Washington Post: Yes, he basically said very definitively today, at least, that he'd rather have life in prison, that he said that, when he testified three weeks ago in the trial's first phase, he had told the truth and that his understanding and, according to his interpretation of Islam, is that, if you tell the truth, you know, you're not going to be executed. And he very specifically said he did not want to be executed.
I should point out, though, that Mr. Moussaoui has gone back and forth on this subject many, many times since he was first charged in 2001. In fact, on several other occasions, he has openly embraced the possibility of death and being a martyr.
So it's really unclear which Moussaoui we were seeing today. But in terms of, you know, the context of today, he was very clear that he did not want to be sentenced to death.
MARGARET WARNER: But then how did the rest of his testimony today jibe with that? I mean, did he sound like a man pleading for his life?
JERRY MARKON: Not exactly, probably the opposite. And that's what's so interesting about it, is he made some very rather incendiary statements, to put it mildly.
He was asked by his own lawyer how he felt about those -- all the sobbing 9/11 victims and survivors who had testified against him, whether he felt any regret. And he said they were, quote, "disgusting." It was disgusting that people would come in and express all this emotion about other people who had died.
He was asked specifically about a survivor of the Pentagon who gripped the courtroom last week when he talked about crawling on his hands and knees to get out of the burning building. And Mr. Moussaoui said he was -- I think "pathetic" was the word, and his only regret was that the man didn't die.
He admitted to prosecutors -- prosecutors at one point asked, you know, you would do a suicide attack against the U.S. again tomorrow, wouldn't you? And Moussaoui smiles and says, "No, today."
So, you know, and one other thing I should add, he also referred to Timothy McVeigh, the executed Oklahoma City bomber, as, quote, "the greatest American." So how all of this squares with somebody without wants to not be sentenced to death, I really can't tell you.
MARGARET WARNER: Did he give reasons for this hostility he has toward the United States, toward Americans?
JERRY MARKON: Yes, he was asked that. He gave sort of a, you know, familiar litany, I think, of people who have objections to American foreign policy. He talked a little bit about suffering in Iraq of the children there, in Bosnia and some other places the U.S. has gone to war.
And he really dwelled on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He made some comments that were arguably anti-Semitic or at the very least anti-Israel and said that he hated America and wanted America to be destroyed, in part because of the U.S. support for Israel.
He said the U.S. is the only reason Israel even exists. He talked about, you know, New York Jews, you know, being the reason that the U.S. support Israel.
The irony of that, I should add, by the way, is he was being questioned by his own lawyer, at that point, Gerald Zerkin, who is Jewish, which Mr. Moussaoui acknowledged on several occasions and said, you know, part of the reason I didn't want you as my lawyer, because he denounced his own lawyers was, number one, you're American, and, number two, you're Jewish. So it was pretty wild.
MARGARET WARNER: You said yesterday -- you told Gwen that the defense strategy was going to be to try to present him as mentally unstable and that, therefore, he couldn't be believed when he claimed to have been involved in the plot and been ready to fly the plane into the White House.
JERRY MARKON: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: Did today's testimony undercut that or did it help it?
JERRY MARKON: You know, on the surface, it seemed to undercut it dramatically. You know, I'm no expert on whether someone is insane or crazy or what.
You know, I will tell you that Mr. Moussaoui, you know, came off fairly well, in terms of his demeanor. I mean, he wasn't ranting. He looked the questioner right in the eye. He answered the questions quickly and succinctly, to tell you the truth.
I do think, though, it did appear that a lot of these things he said were brought out by his own lawyers, and his own lawyers seemed to be probing his thought process in great detail to make the argument that some of these views, you know, on America, and destruction of the United States, and whatnot might be seen as crazy to an American jury.
So I think the lawyers were trying to sort of show that argument in their testimony. Just the question is: Did Moussaoui go too far and, you know, have the opposite effect on the jurors, which it seemed that he may have?
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Jerry Markon of the Washington Post, thanks.
JERRY MARKON: Thank you.