- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

A federal judge yesterday said terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui can represent himself in his pending trial on capital conspiracy charges in the September 11 attacks on America.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, during a hearing in federal court in Alexandria, said the 34-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent, the only person charged in the September 11 attacks that killed about 3,000 people, was mentally competent to fire his court-appointed attorneys to represent himself.

Judge Brinkema said a report by a court-appointed psychiatrist and comments by jailers where he is being held convinced her he would be able to defend himself at trial.

Although the judge said she thought it was "unwise for any defendant to proceed without counsel, especially in a case of this degree of significance and seriousness," she described Moussaoui's request as "rational."

"Mr. Moussaoui is fully competent. I don't see any basis to prolong this issue. There is no evidence of delusion or strange behavior," said Judge Brinkema, who also ordered that his current court-appointed attorneys, headed by federal public defender Frank Dunham Jr., remain as standby counsel to advise him on legal issues.

Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin in late September.

During the hearing, Moussaoui answered questions by the judge concerning his ability to represent himself, but was not allowed to make any speeches. He denied any ties to the September 11 hijackers, but said he fully understood the "U.S. system of justice" and predicted he would "never see the light again."

Moussaoui surprised the court during an April 22 court hearing when he said he wanted to fire his defense attorneys. He told Judge Brinkema that federal prosecutors and his own attorneys were government employees who were conspiring to guarantee his execution.

"What they've done is a sophisticated version of the kiss of death," Moussaoui said. "The United States will not have a trial without me. They only need me for the gas chamber."

Judge Brinkema at the time ordered a mental examination to determine whether he was capable of defending himself.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond Patterson, said in his report that Moussaoui did not appear to have a "major mental disease or defect." In reaching that conclusion, he considered pleadings filed by Moussaoui; a transcript of his statements at the April 22 hearing; and records from prisons where he had been held, including two videos showing his removal from cells by corrections officials.

Dr. Patterson also interviewed staff from the Alexandria Detention Center who have had daily contact with Moussaoui.

The government did not oppose Moussaoui's request to fire his attorneys and represent himself. In papers filed with the court last week, U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said there was "an ample record on which to find the defendant competent, and the court should do so."

Mr. McNulty said there was no evidence showing that Moussaoui did not meet the definition of competence outlined in federal law. He said Moussaoui understood the judicial process and the role he, the court, the prosecutors and his legal counsel played in that process.

He said Moussaoui understood the charges against him and had "publicly stated his intent to fight those charges."

In March, Mr. McNulty announced the government would seek the death penalty for Moussaoui. In court papers, he said Moussaoui deserved to die for conspiracy in the September 11 attacks that saw "the largest loss of life resulting from a criminal act in the history of the United States."

Moussaoui was indicted Dec. 11 by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on six counts of plotting with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network to murder thousands of people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He was arrested a month before the September 11 attacks.

According to the indictment, Moussaoui underwent flight training in the United States and weapons training at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, like many of the 19 hijackers, and that he received money from an al Qaeda member in Germany.

Moussaoui's mother, Aicha El Wafi, who lives in France and hired a Muslim attorney for her son that he refused to see, was in the courtroom. The two waved at each other. She cried.

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