U.S. Must Submit Papers to Moussaoui Team


The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 25, 2006; 7:43 PM

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has ordered the government to give admitted terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui's defense team documents describing what officials knew before Sept. 11, 2001, about al-Qaida threats and some of its hijackers.

With a trial to determine Moussaoui's sentence set to begin next month, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema granted part of a Jan. 20 defense motion for documents without waiting for the government's response.

"Several of the categories of information are so critical to the issues in this case that the court can address some of the requests without a response," Brinkema wrote. "Moreover, given the increasingly shortening time before the start of the trial, discovery issues must be resolved quickly."

Granted Tuesday under seal, her order was released Wednesday after government censors blacked out about five lines of it.

She ordered the government to immediately turn over any threat assessments, especially those completed in the year before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Defense attorneys also will get all reports, cables, slides, talking points, memos and other documents about Moussaoui's arrest a month before the attacks and about two Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdahar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, whose presence in the United States was known to federal officials before the attacks.

That data clearly was sought by the defense for use in the first part of the upcoming court proceeding, in which prosecutors will try to convince jurors that the FBI would have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks if Moussaoui had told federal agents what he knew about al-Qaida's desire to fly planes into U.S. buildings.

The defense will argue that agents had more information about the plot than Moussaoui could provide but still could not prevent the attacks. If the jury disagrees with prosecutors, Moussaoui will receive life in prison. If jurors agree with prosecutors, they will decide whether he should be executed.

Brinkema also ordered that she be given both an unclassified and a classified version of a CIA inspector general report. Defense attorneys already have seen the unclassified version, but Brinkema said she wanted to determine for herself that the deletions from the original were appropriate.

A 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, Moussaoui is the only person who has been charged in the United States as part of the Sept. 11 al-Qaida attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Last April, he pleaded guilty to six conspiracy charges, but insisted he was not part of the Sept. 11 plot. However, he said he was taking flight lessons to prepare to hijack a 747 jet later and fly it into the White House if the U.S. government refused to release a radical Egyptian cleric serving a life term for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and 1995 plots against New York landmarks.

Moussaoui was in custody in Minnesota on immigration violations when the hijacked jets crashed on Sept. 11.