- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

The court-appointed attorney for Zacarias Moussaoui says federal prosecutors do not believe Moussaoui the only man indicted in connection with the September 11 attacks has any useful information about the hijackings.
Investigators' lack of interest in questioning Moussaoui who currently is representing himself suggests they doubt his claims of intimate knowledge of the hijackings that killed 3,000 people, said public defender Frank W. Dunham.
Mr. Dunham was ordered by the court to stand by Moussaoui during proceedings in case the defendant needed legal advice or became disqualified from self-representation.
Last week in federal court in Alexandria, in what legal analysts called one of the strangest developments in American legal history, Moussaoui tried to plead guilty to conspiring in the attacks but was given a week to think about the decision.
Moussaoui told District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema he was a member of the al Qaeda terrorist network and he had important knowledge about the men who executed the September 11 attacks and how they pulled it off.
Moussaoui, 34, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, could face the death penalty if his guilty plea is accepted on Thursday.
But prosecutors obviously think Moussaoui is lying, Mr. Dunham says.
"The FBI talked to Moussaoui back when they originally arrested him, but they haven't talked to him since or made any effort as far as I know," Mr. Dunham said in a telephone interview. "We think the government knows Moussaoui wasn't involved. Otherwise, why wouldn't they want to talk to him?"
September 11 was "the biggest crime in the history of mankind and nobody wants to talk to one of the guys who supposedly was involved?" Mr. Dunham said. "It's suggesting that they really don't think [Moussaoui] knows anything."
Prosecutors in the case, led by U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, have declined to comment.
FBI agents detained Moussaoui on visa violations last August. Employees at a Minneapolis flight school said he told instructors that he needed to learn only how to steer an airplane and wanted to skip takeoff and landing lessons.
In December, a federal grand jury in Alexandria indicted Moussaoui on six counts of conspiracy related to the September 11 attacks. Prosecutors have said he would have been the "20th hijacker" had he not been in custody at the time of the attacks. His trial is set for Sept. 30.
In pretrial proceedings, Moussaoui has filed dozens of handwritten motions last month winning the right to defend himself. Last week, Moussaoui suddenly tried to enter a guilty plea to Judge Brinkema.
"It's so unusual," said Douglas W. Kmiec, a former senior Justice Department official, now serving as dean of Catholic University's Columbus School of Law. Mr. Kmiec said he had never heard of a case in which a defendant fought for the right to defend himself but then attempted to enter a guilty plea.
When Moussaoui entered the plea, Judge Brinkema took the rare step of refusing to accept it, insisting Moussaoui take a week to reconsider. The judge said she will accept the plea should Moussaoui desire to enter it again on Thursday. Moussaoui told the court to "bet on it."
Although he has not entered any plea-bargain agreement with prosecutors, Moussaoui said he was pleading guilty to pre-empt any government effort to have him executed. He said he feared that if he did not plead guilty, the judge might strip him of his right to self-representation during the ensuing trial.
Moussaoui said a guilty plea would secure his chance to represent himself before a jury in hearings during the penalty phase of capital-punishment cases.
Mr. Kmiec said Moussaoui probably hoped to convince a jury that his involvement in September 11 was inconsequential a plan that likely would backfire because of Moussaoui's courtroom antics.
"Up to this point, he has been more interested in denigrating the United States and its judicial system more interested in manipulating it and making a public statement than being at all interested in ensuring the judicial system operates in the way that it was intended," Mr. Kmiec said.
American University law professor Ira Robbins said "it would not surprise me" if Moussaoui has misunderstood the plea-bargain concept.


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