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Moussaoui Says Rights Violated

Defense: The accused terrorist is being denied attorney-client privilege in jail, his lawyers argue in a court motion.

April 13, 2002|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been portrayed as sullen and uncommunicative, is trying to take an active role in his defense against death-penalty charges but has been thwarted by "oppressive" lock-down conditions in jail, his lawyers said Friday.

Moussaoui, who some authorities contend was to be the 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, has been harassed by guards, kept awake all night by blinding light and jarring noise and denied the basic rights of the accused, according to a court motion.

The court papers said Moussaoui hasn't been allowed to keep discussions with his lawyers or his legal paperwork confidential. He has been denied a computer, even though the federal government's voluminous investigative materials are being provided to the defense on 1,400 CD-ROMs, according to the court papers.

Moussaoui is also prohibited from having staples or paper clips to organize the thousands of pages of legal documents he will be receiving, according to the motion, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.

His lawyers filed the motion to seek an immediate injunction from what they describe as the "particularly oppressive conditions of his confinement that interfere with his ability to defend himself."

"It is the most oppressive thing I have ever seen for someone who is presumed innocent," defense lawyer Frank W. Dunham Jr. said.

Justice Department officials responded that the "special administrative measures" were court-ordered and are not being abused. Beyond that, "we can't comment on anything regarding this case," because of the continuing investigation and upcoming trial, spokesman Bryan Sierra said.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema scheduled an April 22 hearing to determine whether Moussaoui's rights have been violated and whether he deserves better treatment.

The court brief also provides details, for the first time, of Moussaoui's behavior since his indictment in November on charges that he conspired to kill more than 3,000 people in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Last month, prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty for Moussaoui, 33, a French citizen of Moroccan descent who is the only person charged in the terrorist attacks.

For months, Moussaoui has been portrayed as being so unresponsive that he refuses to say anything other than anti-American epithets.

But in the documents, as well as interviews with his lawyers Friday, Moussaoui is described as being interested, even eager, to help his public defenders mount the best defense possible.

Moussaoui, they say, asks questions, takes notes, participates in legal discussions and has actively tried--without success--to prevent authorities from listening in on his conversations and going through his mail.

"We wouldn't be filing this motion if he wasn't trying hard to participate in his own defense," Dunham said, adding that Moussaoui keeps the legal team informed of potential violations of his legal and civil rights while in custody.

"How else would we know about them?" Dunham asked.

According to the legal brief, the violations are so significant as to potentially affect the outcome of Moussaoui's trial, which will put the U.S. legal system on worldwide display when it gets underway this fall.

"While no one condition may seem that onerous when considered in isolation, when viewed as a whole . . . they are quite lethal," the defense lawyers wrote. "Whether intended or not, the conditions of confinement create an insurmountable impediment to Moussaoui, an intelligent and well-educated man professing his innocence, from having any meaningful participation in defense of his own life."

Some of Moussaoui's problems stem from the fact that he was bumped out of a larger prison cell recently to make room for another notorious prisoner, accused American Talib John Walker Lindh. That cell had the space for a computer, files and documents that lawyers said Moussaoui needs to participate in his defense.

The lawyers also contend that their client is being harassed by his captors.

Moussaoui is being held in solitary confinement, in a small cell with a steel toilet, steel sink and raised concrete platform for sleeping, "with little room for anything else," the court brief said.

"A bright fluorescent light shines on him 24 hours a day so that he can be constantly observed via a video camera at a monitor watched by guards," it said. In addition, "guards routinely wake him up throughout the night by opening a steel partition to look directly into the cell."

But the lawyers said they were more concerned with the ramifications that such harsh treatment could have on the outcome of his case. The restrictions and oversight mean that on occasion, the only way they can talk to their client is through the food slot in the door to his cell, they said.

And though he has the right to talk confidentially with his lawyers to discuss legal strategy, guards hover so close that they can hear every word, his lawyers contend. Moussaoui's guards also "routinely search through materials given to him by his counsel," including those clearly marked "attorney/client privileged," even when he objects, the court papers said.

Despite Moussaoui's protests, one jail official even insisted on reading an early draft of the motion filed Friday challenging his conditions in prison.

"How can you have attorney-client privilege when every time he takes notes on what we discuss with him, they read the notes?" Dunham asked. "The conditions here are worse than those provided military captives at Guantanamo Bay" in Cuba.

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