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Moussaoui Defense Presses for Captives' Testimony

September 25, 2003|From Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Al Qaeda prisoners would testify that terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui was not involved in planning either the Sept. 11 attacks or a later operation, defense lawyers argued in a written motion made public Wednesday.

Bidding for dismissal of the charges, the lawyers argued that the government's refusal to allow the captives to testify would deny Moussaoui a fair trial and could unjustly lead to his execution.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema is on the verge of punishing the government for defying her orders to allow Moussaoui to question three captives.

Moussaoui had petitioned to question Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is considered the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks; his key planner, Ramzi Binalshibh; and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a suspected paymaster for Al Qaeda.

Indicted in the only U.S. case arising from Sept. 11, Moussaoui has denied charges that he conspired with the hijackers who carried out the attacks.

The government has said in court papers that Moussaoui, a French citizen, was part of a broad terrorist conspiracy that ranged beyond Sept. 11 and may have included plans for him to fly a plane into the White House.

"However, even assuming that the indictment is sufficiently broad to encompass a post-Sept. 11 attack, dismissal of the indictment nevertheless is required because ... witnesses [names blacked out] exculpate Moussaoui from any later operation as well," the defense motion said.

It added that since a later plan "never took shape and no one died from it," the Al Qaeda witnesses could end any justification for the death penalty.

Moussaoui is representing himself. However, the court has appointed a defense team to represent his interests in the potential death penalty case.

The defense lawyers, the government and Moussaoui were ordered to submit arguments on the appropriate punishment, which could include dismissal of all charges.

The ruling by the district judge won't be the last word, however.

A federal appeals court panel has indicated it would intervene after Brinkema imposed her sanctions, and the losing side could ask the Supreme Court to review the witness access issue.

The filing said the Sept. 11 attacks "form the heart of the government's case."

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