A judge is blocking federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against Zacarias Moussaoui and from linking him to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, because of their refusal to permit him to interview captured terrorists whose testimony might help his defense.
The New York Times says he ruling by Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., was a sharp rebuke to the Justice Department, which has portrayed Moussaoui as a central figure in the Sept. 11 conspiracy. Moussaoui had been the only person facing trial in an American court for conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks. Judge Brinkema described Moussaoui as a “remote or minor participant” in Al Qaeda’s terrorism plans.
The judge allowed the Justice Department to pursue broader conspiracy charges that accuse Moussaoui of ties to Qaeda terrorism plots.
Paul J. McNulty, the United States attorney in Alexandria, said, “We continue to believe that the Constitution does not require, and national security will not permit, the government to allow Moussaoui, an avowed terrorist, to have direct access to his terrorist confederates who have been detained abroad as enemy combatants in the midst of a war.”
The government could appeal the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., or might pursue the terrorism conspiracy case outlined by Judge Brinkema in hopes of convicting Moussaoui on charges that might send him to prison for life. “We are weighing a large universe of possibilities,” a senior department official told the Times. “Judge Brinkema has given us lots to think about.”