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Context of 'April 22, 2004: Death Penalty for Moussaoui Allowed by Appeals Court'

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On May 7, 2003, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA if it has recordings of interrogations of detainees related to Moussaoui’s case. Two days later, the CIA replies that it does not, although it is actually in possession of some recordings. In 2002, the CIA secretly videotaped interrogations of high-ranking detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002) but it does not reveal this to anyone involved in the Moussaoui trial. In 2005, some of these videotapes will be destroyed (see November 2005), around the time the Brinkema makes a repeat request for the tapes (see November 3-14, 2005). However, other recordings—two videotapes and one audio tape—will survive and will finally be viewed by Moussaoui’s prosecutors in 2007, long after Moussaoui has been convicted (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file; Vicini 11/13/2007) Although the identity of the detainees in the recordings requested is not known, one of the prosecutors will later say, “Obviously the important witnesses included [Abu] Zubaidah, [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed]… those are the guys at the head of the witness list.” However, he will not specifically recall which tapes are requested. (Hess 12/7/2007)

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. (Shenon 5/15/2004)

In spite of multiple rulings beginning in 2002 that Zacarias Moussaoui must be allowed to question witnesses, including Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the government has continued to refuse any access to high-level al-Qaeda prisoners. Because of this, Judge Brinkema sanctions the government by ruling in October 2003 that the prosecution could not seek the death penalty. (Novak 10/19/2003) Prosecutors have appealed the decision and, on this day, a federal appeals panel restores the government’s right to seek the death penalty. However, the same ruling hands a partial victory to Moussaoui, ordering prosecutors to work out a method that would permit Moussaoui to question three high-level prisoners. CBS News reports that the judge ruled, “Moussaoui could have access to information from three al-Qaeda prisoners [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi] who may be able to exonerate him.” (Cohen 4/23/2004) As a result of the appeals decision, the government will file a motion in July 2004, seeking to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Moussaoui. The motion explains that the evaluation would only be used to counter any defense strategy to spare Moussaoui the death penalty by citing his mental condition. The motion states, “Like most capital cases, the mental condition of the defendant is likely to play a significant rule during the penalty phase.” (Cohen 4/23/2004; Associated Press 7/7/2004)

A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema.A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema. [Source: Art Lein / Agence France-Presse]Leonie Brinkema, the federal judge overseeing the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, denies a request to make public an unclassified version of a report on the FBI’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. The report, written by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, was completed in July 2004 (see July 2004) has been held up from publication because of the Moussaoui trial. One portion of the report deals with the FBI’s handling of Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001). However, he pleaded guilty earlier in April (see April 22, 2005). Judge Brinkema doesn’t give an explanation for continuing to keep the report classified or hint when it might finally be unclassified. Most of the report has no bearing on Moussaoui. (Eggen 4/30/2005) The report will be released two months later with the section on Moussaoui completely removed (see June 9, 2005).


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