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Moussaoui Prosecutors' Actions Called Misleading

Defense lawyers say the government deliberately reworded statements from a potential witness.

June 05, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui accused the government of submitting misleading information to a judge by parsing, piecing together and adding words to statements from an Al Qaeda leader, according to a court document released Wednesday.

The government "mixed, matched, integrated and chronologically reorganized" interrogation statements from Ramzi Binalshibh "into one seamless script, or story line," the lawyers contended.

"To make the substitute flow the government added in its own transitional phrasing," according to the written brief filed last month and kept secret until now by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said the government has filed papers with the appeals court that he said "refutes the defense's argument."

Prosecutors submitted the statements as a substitute for closed-circuit television questioning of Binalshibh by Moussaoui, who wants to use the deposition at his trial to rebut his indictment. Binalshibh is being held overseas at an undisclosed location.

An acknowledged Al Qaeda loyalist, Moussaoui contends Binalshibh -- the suspected organizer of the Sept. 11 attacks -- could back up Moussaoui's contention that he was not part of the conspiracy as charged by the government.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in Alexandria, Va., rejected the proposed substitution last month, leaving intact her January order allowing the deposition to take place.

The interview with Binalshibh was placed on hold when the government appealed, and the appeals court heard arguments Tuesday in Richmond. The proceeding was divided into open and closed sessions, and the substitutions were not discussed in the public portion.

The material consisted of summaries of statements to interrogators by Binalshibh.

The government contends that allowing Moussaoui to interview Binalshibh would cause irreparable harm to national security.

The defense lawyers said the government summaries were "riddled with information ... that the defense would not even seek to use" if the appeals court blocked the closed-circuit interview with Binalshibh.

They called the government summaries "concocted" and said the submissions included prosecutors' "opinions, inferences and assumptions" that were added to statements that would help the defense.

Citing an example referring to Osama bin Laden, the lawyers quoted a statement where Binalshibh allegedly said, "Bin Laden must have selected Moussaoui [for the Sept. 11 operation]." The defense has had no opportunity to question the witness on such information, the lawyers argued.

The statements "cannot be characterized as an accurate or complete reflection of exactly what he [Binalshibh] would say," said the written motion by the lawyers -- who were names by the court even as Moussaoui acts as his own lawyer.

The defense lawyers complained that "nothing in the substitution indicates that it was written by the government. The effect of all this would be to mislead the jury. This is because the substitute, as scripted by the government, falsely appears to be a single statement that was voluntarily obtained in a neutral setting at one time."

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