Federal appeals judges may order a compromise in the constitutional dispute that has halted the case against terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, the Washington Post says. Judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., may allow Moussaoui access to statements made by three al-Qaeda detainees without letting him or his attorneys interview them in person.
The witness issue has stalled the only U.S. criminal prosecution directly related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The government refuses to turn over the detainees sought by Moussaoui. As a result, a federal judge eliminated the possibility of the death penalty for Moussaoui and any evidence that he took part in the hijackings.
Chief Judge William W. Wilkins Jr. and Judge Roger Gregory asked several times in a hearing yesterday whether alternate versions of the witness statements, known as “substitutions,” could be fashioned. Sources said judges have pushed the idea in sessions closed to the public for national security reasons.
Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement said substitutions “may be a way of securing the defendant’s rights.” Moussaoui attorneys are resisting a substitute for the witnesses’ live testimony.
A compromise would allow the court to avoid larger constitutional issues. Lawyers for Moussaoui say he has an absolute right to witnesses who might exonerate him; the government says such access would harm national security.