Profile: Leonie Brinkema
Leonie Brinkema was a participant or observer in the following events:
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 ; Reuters, 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. [Associated Press, 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. [New York Times, 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. [Time, 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.” [CBS News, 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.” [CBS News, 4/23/2004; Associated Press, 7/7/2004]
Zacarias Moussaoui wants captured al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh to testify in his trial. However, an appeals court in April 2004 had only allowed indirect access to those prisoners, and further appeals court decisions in September and October 2004 had reaffirmed that ruling. On this date, the US Supreme Court, without comment, refuses to hear a further appeal. This was expected because the Supreme Court typically doesn’t hear such appeals until after the case goes to trial. [Washington Post, 9/14/2004; Washington Post, 10/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/22/2005] Moussaoui’s guilty plea one month later (see April 22, 2005) may lead to a new round of appeals. Presiding judge Leonie Brinkema has indicated she believes witness access is “highly relevant to the sentencing phase,” which will begin next, and could constitute “mitigating evidence” that could make the difference between Moussaoui receiving the death penalty or not. [Washington Post, 4/23/2005]
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. [Washington Post, 4/30/2005] The report will be released two months later with the section on Moussaoui completely removed (see June 9, 2005).
On November 3, 2005, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA about recordings of interrogations of detainees who are related to the Moussaoui case. Eleven days later, the CIA again incorrectly claims to prosecutors in that trial that it has no such recordings. The CIA made a similar claim in 2003 (see May 7-9, 2003), but in fact the CIA secretly videotaped detainee interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). Some of these videotapes are destroyed this month (see November 2005), however it is unknown if the destruction takes place before or after this date. In late 2007, the CIA will reveal that it did have some videotapes after all and prosecutors will finally be able to view some of them (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). But it will also be revealed that most of the videotapes were destroyed (see December 6, 2007). Prosecutors will later claim that neither the video nor the audio recordings contained material relevant to the Moussaoui trial, and some of the content of the interrogations was provided during discovery. [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 ; Reuters, 11/13/2007]
Judge Leonie Brinkema halts the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006) after it is discovered that Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin violated a court order prohibiting witnesses from following the trial. Martin e-mailed transcripts to seven witnesses and coached them on their testimony. Brinkema calls it “the most egregious violation of the court’s rules on witnesses [I have seen] in all the years I’ve been on the bench.” Even the prosecution says, “We frankly cannot fathom why she engaged in such conduct.” [Washington Post, 3/14/2006; Associated Press, 3/17/2006] Brinkema allows the prosecution to continue to seek the death penalty, but initially removes the aviation security portion of evidence from its case. However, after the prosecution complains this makes the proceedings pointless, she reinstates some of it, allowing the trial to continue. [Associated Press, 3/15/2006; CNN, 3/16/2006; Associated Press, 3/17/2006] As a result of her actions, Martin is placed on paid leave. Additionally, Pennsylvania’s lawyer disciplinary board begins an investigation and federal prosecutors explore charges. [Washington Post, 7/10/2006] Martin’s e-mails also reveal that she has been communicating with attorneys for United and American Airlines. This prompts seven victims’ relatives, who are suing the airlines for being negligent on 9/11, to file a civil action against her alleging that she is trying to help the airline industry avoid civil liability. [CBS News, 4/7/2006; CNN, 4/26/2006]
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