- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

A federal appeals court in Richmond yesterday rejected a request by accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui that he be given direct access to three terror suspects being held as “enemy combatants” overseas as part of his defense — but said he could send them written questions.

In a ruling being described as a partial victory for the Justice Department in its long-delayed case against the suspected 20th conspirator in the September 11 attacks, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that granted access without permitting the face-to-face interviews that Moussaoui had sought.

The ruling, which was heavily redacted because of national security concerns, said that the problems associated with producing the witnesses for interviews were substantial, but that Moussaoui’s interest in obtaining information from them was “integral to our adversarial criminal-justice system.”

The appeals panel ordered prosecutors and defense attorneys to work with U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who is hearing the case, to reach an agreement to allow Moussaoui access to the would-be witnesses.

“We are pleased with today’s 4th Circuit ruling, which once again affirms our belief that the government can provide Zacarias Moussaoui with a fair trial while still protecting national security interests,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

“Today’s ruling reiterating the 4th Circuit’s conclusions and unanimously denying Moussaoui’s request for rehearing by the full court puts the Moussaoui prosecution back on track, and we look forward to presenting our case to the district court,” he said.

Moussaoui, 35, is the only person charged in the September 11 suicide strikes on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Some law-enforcement officials have described him as the intended “20th hijacker” had he not been in custody for immigration violations at the time.

A French citizen of Moroccan descent, Moussaoui has acknowledged belonging to al Qaeda, but has denied any involvement in the September 11 conspiracy. He has called al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden “my brother in Islam and my father in jihad.”

In August 2003, Judge Brinkema ordered the depositions by Moussaoui of the enemy combatants, thought to be members of the al Qaeda terrorist network, by way of satellite transmission in lieu of their testimony at trial.

But U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty in Virginia balked, arguing that the “unprecedented depositions” would jeopardize national security at a time of war “with an enemy who has already murdered thousands of our citizens.” In court papers, he offered detailed interview alternatives in lieu of any direct questioning by Moussaoui of the enemy combatants.

Some of those detainees, according to court records, have told their interrogators that Moussaoui was not a “designated participant” in the September 11 attacks, but was part of a planned second wave of suicide strikes against other U.S. targets.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide