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Context of 'November 2003: Lawyers for Terrorist Suspect Inquire about ‘Reynolds’ Reopening'

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Judy Palya Loether.Judy Palya Loether. [Source: SecrecyFilm (.com)]Judy Palya Loether, the daughter of a civilian engineer killed in a 1948 plane crash while on a secret government mission (see October 6, 1948), reads over the voluminous reports of the accident that claimed her father’s life. The reports, now declassified (see January 1996), had been at the heart of a landmark lawsuit that gave judicial recognition to the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Loether is shocked to find that the reports contain nothing that could be construed as military or tactical secrets of any kind, though for decades the government has insisted that they could not be revealed, even to a judge (see October 18, 1948, July 26, 1950, August 7-8, 1950, September 21, 1950, and October 19, 1951). What they do contain is a compendium of witness statements and expert findings that indicate a number of mistakes and errors led to the crash. Loether begins contacting the families of the widows who had filed the original lawsuit against the government (seeJune 21, 1949) to share her findings. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 210-211] Loether is confused and angered over the contents of the reports, and the government’s response to the lawsuit. She cannot understand why the government pressed so hard to keep the reports classified, knowing that they contained no sensitive information about the secret missile program, and is particularly troubled by the fact that at least two senior government officials signed affidavits affirming the reports’ inclusion of such information while knowing that the reports contained nothing of the sort. She wonders if government officials had perhaps decided to lie about the reports in order to establish some sort of state secrets privilege. In September 2002, lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida, retained by Loether and others who lost family members in the crash, come to the same conclusion. As Almeida will say to Brown: “I’ve read this report. There’s nothing in there.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 219] As time goes on, Loether and her colleagues files a second lawsuit seeking to overturn the first Supreme Court verdict (see February 26, 2003).

Entity Tags: Wilson Brown, Jeff Almeida, Judy Palya Loether

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida file a request with the Supreme Court, asking it to reconsider its landmark 1953 case, US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953). The lawyers are representing several family members who lost fathers (and, in one case, a husband) in the airplane crash that led to the original case (see October 6, 1948). The lawyers note that the government’s original claim that the accident reports could not be released due to the inclusion of “military secrets” (see July 26, 1950) is false, as the accident reports have been declassified and examined for such secrets (see February 2000). “Indeed,” the lawyers write, “they are no more than accounts of a flight that, due to the Air Force’s negligence, went tragically awry. In telling the Court otherwise, the Air Force lied. In reliance upon that lie, the Court deprived the widows [the three original plaintiffs] of their judgments. It is for this Court, through issuance of a writ of error coram nobis and in exercise of its inherent power to remedy fraud, to put things right… United States v. Reynolds stands as a classic ‘fraud on the court,’ one that is most remarkable because it succeeded in tainting a decision of our nation’s highest tribunal.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 249-251] On July 26, 2002, one of the plaintiffs, Judy Palya Loether, wrote in an e-mail to Brown: ”US v Reynolds has come to be a landmark case that is used by the government when it claims that documents cannot be turned over to the courts because of national security. Yet this very case is now proven, in my mind, to be based on a lie that did injury to 3 widows and 5 little children (see February 2000)… It allowed the government an area of no checks and balances (see December 11, 1951). How many times has the government used this decision, not to protect national security, but for its own purposes?” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 237-238]

Entity Tags: Judy Palya Loether, Jeff Almeida, US Supreme Court, US Department of the Air Force, Wilson Brown

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In January 2003, Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that Zacarias Moussaoui must be allowed to conduct a videotaped deposition of bin al-Shibh. However, the government still refuses to allow Moussaoui access to bin al-Shibh, stating that even its own lawyers do not have access to question al-Qaeda captives. But on May 12, the government revealed that lawyers have been submitting questions to al-Qaeda detainees about Moussaoui’s role in the 9/11 plot. Two days later, Judge Brinkema demands to know, “If circumstances have changed such that submission of written questions is now possible, when did the circumstances change and why was neither this court nor the district court so informed at the time?” She also suggests that since the prosecution can submit questions to al-Qaeda operatives in custody, Moussaoui should also be allowed to do the same. [New York Times, 5/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Leonie Brinkema, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Supreme Court refuses to hear a petition to reopen the 1953 state secrets case US v Reynolds (see February 26, 2003). It issues a one-sentence ruling: “The motion for leave to file a writ of error coram nobis is denied.” Plaintiff Judy Palya Loether says: “Maybe the law isn’t about right or wrong. The concept that the government lied to the Supreme Court (see February 2000) seemed to me a terrible thing to do. It appears that the justices were not as appalled as I was.” Further attempts to reopen the case in lower courts will also fail. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 267-298]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Judy Palya Loether

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyers for accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, battling to force the US government to allow them to depose other accused terrorists as part of their defense (see May 14, 2003), contact Jeff Almeida, the lawyer for the plaintiffs who sought to reopen the 1953 state secrets case US v Reynolds. They ask how his petition for coram nobis—a request for the court to “right a wrong”—went. Almeida tells them that the Court turned the petition down without comment (see June 23, 2003). Moussaoui’s lawyers tell Almeida that the government prosecutors were so reliant on Reynolds that “they had been waving it around the courtroom any chance they got.” Plaintiff Susan Brauner later says that she is glad Moussaoui’s lawyers contacted Almeida, and says she finds their interest “most encouraging.” She will add, “If we eventually walk away with nothing more than one concrete example where the case was of possible use to someone else… then I will believe we have done some good in impacting or at least raising the issue.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 272-273]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Jeff Almeida, Susan Brauner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that Richard Reid (above) was to have helped him hijack a fifth plane on 9/11.Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that Richard Reid (above) was to have helped him hijack a fifth plane on 9/11. [Source: Mirrorpix(.com)]Against the will of his defense attorneys, Zacarias Moussaoui takes the stand at his trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006) and claims that he was supposed to fly a fifth plane on 9/11. He says the plane would have targeted the White House and one of the muscle hijackers would have been shoe-bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). However, he claims not to have known the details of the other hijackings, only that the WTC would be hit. He does not mention any other collaborators aside from Reid, who has already been sentenced to a long prison term. When the prosecution asks him whether he lied to FBI investigators so the plan could go forward he replies, “That’s correct.” An Associated Press expert calls this, “a stunning revelation that would help prosecutors rather than him.” [Associated Press, 3/27/2006] In what the New York Times calls a “bizarre moment,” the defense team, aware of the damage this admission could do, subject Moussaoui to tough questioning and the chief prosecutor objects that one of the defense attorneys is badgering his own client. [New York Times, 4/17/2006]
Uncertainty over Fifth Jet - There is some dispute over whether Moussaoui was indeed to have flown a fifth plane (see January 30, 2003 and Before 2008). Following the testimony, the defense reads statements made by al-Qaeda leaders who are in custody, but are not permitted to testify at the trial (see May 14, 2003 and March 22, 2005). The statements say that Moussaoui was not part of 9/11, but a follow-up operation. [Associated Press, 3/28/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006 pdf file] However, these statements were obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). The government later concedes that there is no evidence linking Richard Reid to 9/11. [Associated Press, 4/20/2006]
"Complete Fabrication" - Moussaoui had denied being part of 9/11 before the trial (see April 22, 2005). By the end of the trial he will do so again, calling the confession he makes on this day “a complete fabrication.” [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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