WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Thursday that government prosecutors must turn over to alleged terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui their top secret plan for giving him limited access to information from one of the Al Qaeda network's top lieutenants.
Prosecutors had filed the plan under seal, but Judge Leonie M. Brinkema immediately ordered the entire document handed over to Moussaoui, who is attempting to have a group of captured terrorists appear as defense witnesses at his trial.
The plan is the government's proposal for allowing Moussaoui partial access to information gleaned by U.S. interrogators from captured Al Qaeda leader Ramzi Binalshibh.
It was filed under seal for the judge's perusal, but she quickly ordered it sent to Moussaoui and the lawyers helping to represent him.
"This proposal is unacceptable," she said of the government's intention to keep its plan secret from Moussaoui. She said he and his defense attorneys must be able to see it so they "can prepare for trial."
She noted that the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., had asked the two sides to work out a compromise because the judge had earlier ruled that Moussaoui should be allowed to call Binalshibh and perhaps other captured terrorist suspects as defense witnesses during his trial.
The appellate court called for an open exchange of proposals between the prosecution and the defense on how some classified materials might be provided to the defense.
But the government has insisted that turning over any material, or making any captives available to the defense, would have a damaging effect on ongoing intelligence-gathering operations.
They have suggested that if the captives are allowed to testify, they might say anything, true or not, to help Moussaoui, whom the government contends was part of the Sept. 11 conspiracy plot.
Prosecutors also have said that making Binalshibh available now, while interrogators are still trying to win his trust to learn more about the Al Qaeda network, would set back their efforts and make it more difficult to gather intelligence from inside Osama bin Laden's operation.
The defense has until May 1 to respond with its own proposal for receiving classified information. The judge plans to hold a hearing on May 7 to determine whether a compromise has been reached. If there is no compromise by then, the appellate court will rule on whether Moussaoui is indeed entitled to see any classified information or meet with other captives.