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  xTuesday, July 15, 2003

inconceivable


According to the Washington Post, prosecutors are so insistent to defy a judge's ruling that accused 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui be allowed to question an al Qaeda figure in US custody that they're willing to see charges against him dismissed.
The Justice Department yesterday refused to produce a key witness in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, defying a federal court order and acknowledging that the judge will likely dismiss the indictment against the only person charged in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The government's action raises the possibility that the case against Moussaoui could move to a military tribunal, but Justice Department officials indicated last night that they were determined to keep it in the civilian courts and that they intend to appeal any dismissal of the charges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

But first, prosecutors must go before the federal judge who ordered that they produce the witness, Ramzi Binalshibh, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema likely will impose sanctions for the government's failure to allow Moussaoui and his attorneys to question Binalshibh. The expected punishment is the dismissal of the charges, but Brinkema could choose lesser consequences, such as removing the death penalty as an option, reducing the charges or striking all mentions of Binalshibh from the indictment.

I've never been able to make sense of the Bush Administration's approach to prosecuting accused terrorists in the wakeof 9/11 -- it's a bizarre patchwork of secret detentions, civil trials, indefinite military incarceration and promised military tribunals. While I have reservations about the tribunals -- see this chart at CalPundit for an indication why -- I actually believe that as an admitted member of al Qaeda, Moussaoui would have been a prime candidate for one. Yet the government insisted on going forward with what has proved to be a strange and confusing civilian trial. But because it did so, I assumed the government's case was strong.

If speaking to Binalshibh would undermine the government's case, that raises the possibility that, while definitely a Bad Man, Moussaoui might actually be innocent of involvement in 9/11. The US is within its rights to hold Moussaoui as a threat to national security, but switching venues in order to avoid an unfavorable ruling is simply unacceptable. A shadow legal system to which the prosecution can turn whenb it can't meet its burden of proof -- a kangaroo court in which guilt is predetermined -- has no place at all in a democracy, even one struggling with terrorism.

Speaking of CalPundit, he's none too happy about this situation either.





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