- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The decision to try Zacarias Moussaoui on terrorism charges in a federal court instead of a military tribunal was made by President Bush, based on the strength of the pending case and an assessment that an open trial would not hurt national security, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said yesterday.
"The decision here clearly was not to move Moussaoui over to the military tribunal, but rather to handle him through the criminal justice system," Mr. Cheney told The Washington Times in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location outside Washington.
"That's primarily based on an assessment of the case against Moussaoui, and that it can be handled through the normal criminal justice system without compromising sources or methods of intelligence," he said. "And there's a good, strong case against him."
The vice president did not elaborate, but both liberal and conservative members of Congress, as well as pundits and advocates from both ideological sides, have questioned whether the military tribunals sought by Mr. Bush for suspects in the September 11 attacks on America, a sharp departure from regular judicial procedure, were necessary or appropriate.
Federal law-enforcement authorities and others said the decision to allow U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty in Virginia to handle the Moussaoui prosecution could be a signal that the Bush administration does not intend to make wide use of military tribunals for terrorists.
Mr. Bush's executive order authorizing tribunals for foreign citizens said the military authorities could hold trials in secret, choose counsel for the defendants and impose the death penalty by a mere two-thirds vote. There would be no right of appeal.
Administration officials have attempted to "clarify" the rules governing the tribunals, rules now being written by lawyers at the Defense Department.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that rules outlining how the tribunals will operate would guarantee "a full and fair trial" but without the usual constitutional protections.
Law-enforcement authorities and others expressed hope yesterday that bringing Mr. Moussaoui to trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria would allay concerns.
Mr. Moussaoui, the first person to be indicted on charges directly related to the September 11 terrorist attacks, was named Dec. 11 on six counts of conspiracy in a 30-page indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Virginia. The charges include conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, destroying aircraft and murdering federal employees, and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
Four counts of the indictment could result in the death penalty, although Attorney General John Ashcroft has said the government has not decided whether it will seek that penalty. Mr. Moussaoui is scheduled for arraignment Jan. 2 in the federal courthouse in Alexandria.
Mr. Moussaoui, 33, is accused of plotting with Osama bin Laden and members of the al Qaeda terrorist network the murders of more than 3,000 people on September 11.
Meanwhile yesterday, the Associated Press reported that an Algerian man convicted in a plot to bomb New Year's celebrations had told investigators he knew Mr. Moussaoui from a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. Citing an unnamed law-enforcement official, the wire service said Ahmed Ressam had told the FBI that he and Mr. Moussaoui attended the same training camp several years ago.
Named as unindicted co-conspirators were bin Laden and al Qaeda members Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad; Moustaffa Ahmed al-Hawasawi, accused of providing funds to Mr. Moussaoui from banks in the United Arab Emirates; and Ramzi Binalshibh, also suspected of moving cash to Mr. Moussaoui.
The unindicted co-conspirators further included the 19 dead hijackers. In addition to charging Mr. Moussaoui in the attacks, the indictment accuses the al Qaeda network of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, including aircraft piracy, the use of weapons of mass destruction and the murders of U.S. citizens.
Mr. Moussaoui was arrested Aug. 16 in Minnesota when officials at a flight school told authorities he had made unusual requests about the training, seeking only to learn how to fly a plane and with no interest in learning how to take off or land. He was detained, questioned and later turned over to U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials.

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