- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

Zacarias Moussaoui, representing himself in court yesterday, tried to enter a guilty plea, but the judge refused to accept it, giving the September 11 conspiracy suspect a week to ensure that he understands the consequences of his plea.
"I want to plead guilty. I know who done it which group, who participated. It would save my life," Moussaoui told U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. "I am member of al Qaeda."
During his courtroom appearance, Moussaoui made these spontaneous assertions about 20 minutes after being rearraigned under the terms of a new indictment.
Prosecutors filed the indictment Tuesday with new facts that they believe will be critical to the effort to persuade a jury to give Moussaoui the death penalty.
During the rearraignment, Judge Brinkema had entered a "not guilty" plea on Moussaoui's behalf because the Moroccan-born French citizen had tried to enter what he called a "pure plea." Moussaoui said such a plea would be the only way to clarify before a jury the extent of his years-long involvement with al Qaeda.
A federal grand jury in Alexandria's U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted Moussaoui in December on six counts of conspiracy.
He is accused of plotting the September 11 attacks with Osama bin Laden and members of al Qaeda. Prosecutors say he took similar actions, including enrolling in a flight school, to those taken by the 19 suicide hijackers involved in the attacks.
Prosecutors have said Moussaoui would have been the "20th hijacker" had he not been in custody for immigration violations at the time of the attacks.
Moussaoui, 34, said he wanted to plead guilty in hopes of pre-empting any government effort to have him executed. But there was no indication that he had negotiated any plea deal with prosecutors.
Judge Brinkema warned Moussaoui that it would be premature to enter a guilty plea without making such a deal, as he might be able to use his personal knowledge of the terror attacks as currency to bargain for a sentence lighter than execution.
"It is normal in a criminal case that a defendant plea-bargain with the government," she told him, adding that if she accepted his guilty plea, it could not be reversed.
It was not clear whether Moussaoui, who speaks fluent English and is reported to have a master's degree from a British university, understood the judge's logic. He responded by saying, "I don't need. I've been thinking for months."
"I am guilty," he said, "and the question is to what extent."
Judge Brinkema, in an unusual bench ruling, insisted that Moussaoui take a week to think over his decision. She warned him that pleading guilty meant that a judge, rather than a jury, would decide whether he would get the death sentence. She then scheduled a hearing for Thursday to see whether he would still plead guilty.
"Bet on me, I will," Moussaoui said. Moussaoui successfully won the right last month to represent himself, but Judge Brinkema has instructed a public defender to stand by him in court. The suspect also has accused the defender of conspiring with the government to have him executed.
"I don't have to consult with people who want to undermine my defense," he said of his lawyer at proceedings yesterday.
During the proceedings, Moussaoui, a short man with a full black beard, repeatedly squabbled with Judge Brinkema, frequently interrupting her and on one occasion saying: "I would like you to stop this nonsense game here. This is a farce of justice."
Judge Brinkema, who had difficulty getting Moussaoui to stop talking, at one point threatened to order federal marshals to remove him from the courtroom.
When she suggested that Moussaoui was confused about the nature of the rearraignment, the defendant responded, "I'm not confused, thank you."
Observing the scene from the courtroom audience were members of the New Black Panther Party. Party Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz appeared outside the courtroom afterwards, telling reporters that Moussaoui's attempt at pleading guilty was "unwise" and a clear example of the man's lack of understanding of the U.S. legal system.
Mr. Shabazz, a lawyer, said Moussaoui "has some serious information about September 11" that needs to be used as a plea-bargaining tool.
Although he declined to say whether he was trying to become Moussaoui's lawyer, Mr. Shabazz said he was interested in helping the suspect's defense and, if necessary, plea-bargaining efforts.
Mr. Shabazz cited the "successful" plea bargaining conducted by John Walker Lindh's attorneys, which guaranteed the 21-year-old so-called "American Taliban" no more than a 20-year sentence.
Moussaoui has been in custody since August, when the FBI detained him on visa violations. Workers at a flight school reported him to agents as a suspect foreigner, who reportedly told teachers that he only needed to learn how to steer an airplane and wanted to skip takeoff and landing lessons.
Judge Brinkema has dismissed several of Moussaoui's more than 70 handwritten pretrial motions. Moussaoui has suggested in court proceedings that the FBI had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks and "cynically allow[ed] September 11 in order to destroy Afghanistan."

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