- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

Prosecutors yesterday asked a federal judge in Alexandria to drop all charges against September 11 terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, in an effort to expedite the government’s appeal of a ruling that Moussaoui can question detained al Qaeda suspects.

Calling its request a “procedural step” in a case that has given new meaning to the words legal quagmire, the Justice Department said the Constitution does not require it to allow Moussaoui direct access to detainees held as enemy combatants in the war on terrorism.

“If the district court now dismisses the indictment … the government will be ensured its opportunity to obtain prompt appellate review of the direct-access issue,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

“The same procedures will ensure that Moussaoui stays detained pending appeal. We believe this will allow the Department of Justice to resolve the impediments to trial. We remain confident in the ability of our judicial system to try this case, and we look forward to bringing Moussaoui to justice.”

It was not clear yesterday whether the Justice Department intends to level the same charges against Moussaoui later, should the judge agree to dismiss. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema has not indicated whether she would drop the charges.

Judge Brinkema in January ruled that Moussaoui, in his attempts to prove his innocence on charges he conspired with al Qaeda in the September 11 attacks, has a right to interview detained terror suspect Ramzi Binalshibh, who was taken into U.S. custody in Pakistan last year.

In addition to Binalshibh, Moussaoui reportedly seeks interviews with suspected September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and suspected al Qaeda moneyman Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi.

In response, prosecutors asked a federal appeals court in Richmond to overrule the judge’s order on grounds that allowing Moussaoui direct access to such suspects, who are held in undisclosed locations outside the United States, is unconstitutional and would jeopardize national security.

But a panel of appeals court judges balked, ruling it would be premature to intervene in the Moussaoui case, which was still in the pretrial phase.

Judge Brinkema has said she will impose a punishment on the prosecution by next week for defying her order to allow Moussaoui direct access via satellite hookup to Binalshibh and other terror detainees.

Moussaoui, who has acknowledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden and is the only U.S. defendant charged as a conspirator with the September 11 hijackers, is acting as his own attorney.

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