Zacarias Moussaoui, the confessed Al Qaeda conspirator arrested in Minnesota before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is finally going on trial. Jury selection begins today in a case to decide whether the defiant French Moroccan should live or die in the wake of his guilty plea last year, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The only U.S. prosecution stemming from the attacks is significant because it shows how difficult prosecuting suspected terrorists can be in a war against Islamic extremists that’s shrouded in secrecy.
Moussaoui’s case has been slowed by the sheer volume of evidence, fights over the death penalty, questions about his mental competency. and by his repeated attempts to fire his attorneys. The longest delays have been caused by legal impasses over Moussaoui’s rights to use classified information in his defense. “You’re dealing increasingly with information that the government does not want to see the light of day,” said Saul Pilchen, a Washington attorney who has written on the use of classified information in criminal trials. The dilemma shadowing Moussaoui’s case: Should terrorism suspects be treated as criminals, prisoners of war, or potential intelligence sources? The two-stage trial first will decide whether Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty and then whether he actually should be put to death.