ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A judge has denied Zacarias Moussaoui access to airline security plans, citing a risk that the accused Sept. 11 conspirator could contact future hijackers despite his strict confinement.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in an order released Wednesday, said Moussaoui could send the information "to others intent on attacking civil aviation." She ruled that his lawyers can see the information but cannot share it with him.
The order came as Moussaoui's lawyers revealed comments he made to a psychiatrist hired by the judge, who concluded Moussaoui was mentally fit when he asked to represent himself.
Moussaoui told Dr. Raymond Patterson his court-appointed lawyers were conspiring to kill him to keep him from revealing an undisclosed secret and that he had "specific information regarding the Sept. 11 attacks."
Moussaoui also told the psychiatrist his lawyers "want to say I'm crazy now, then at guilt phase, he's sane so they can impose [the] death penalty."
Patterson said Moussaoui might be following his political beliefs and might be attempting to use the trial to make a political statement — but is not suffering from a mental illness.
The defense team, which opposes Moussaoui's motion to fire them, submitted a report by two psychologists concluding that Moussaoui's request might have been influenced by "delusional beliefs."
Government authorities believe Moussaoui, who was in custody for immigration violations on Sept. 11, might have been the 20th hijacker if he had not been arrested last August when officials at a Minnesota flight school became suspicious.
Brinkema's order demonstrates the legal difficulties in the case of the only man charged as a conspirator in the attacks.
Normally, a defendant and his lawyers are entitled to information that could help the defense. Prosecutors agreed to share the information with Moussaoui's lawyers, who have government clearances to receive sensitive material, provided they don't show it to Moussaoui.
Prosecutors told the judge they were worried that Moussaoui could send coded messages from the Alexandria Detention Center.
Brinkema agreed, ruling, "There remains the risk that, despite the security measures presently in place, if defendant were allowed access to these materials, they could be disseminated to others intent on attacking civil aviation."
The situation has become even more complicated by Moussaoui's motion to fire his lawyers and represent himself.
Brinkema has scheduled a hearing Thursday on Moussaoui's request, and has rejected a defense request that the proceeding be closed. A court-appointed psychiatrist concluded Moussaoui was mentally fit to fire his attorneys but two defense psychologists questioned whether he's competent to make the decision.
Moussaoui's lawyers said the judge should defer a ruling on Moussaoui's request to represent himself.
Citing statements that Moussaoui made to Patterson, the defense said in a motion: "Now he claims counsel are conspiring to kill him to keep him from revealing some heretofore undisclosed secret he wants to divulge in open court."
The defense motion asked, "Why does Mr. Moussaoui believe that his current counsel are trying to kill him? Until this question is answered, no decision should be made."
Edward MacMahon Jr., one of Moussaoui's lawyers, said Brinkema's order on the aviation security material "was entered before the defense even had the opportunity to object. The position we've made is, if Moussaoui is going to be his own lawyer, he has to see all the evidence needed to mount a defense."
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if the French citizen is convicted.
Brinkema said Moussaoui's right to the aviation security information "is outweighed by the potential danger to the air traveling public and national security that might ensue after disclosure."
Prosecutors said the new Transportation Security Administration concluded that providing such information to Moussaoui would be unprecedented, and "could have potentially catastrophic consequences for the protection of the traveling public."
The court-appointed lawyers have requested information on each of the four Sept. 11 hijackings, including procedure manuals for screening passengers. They also sought still and video photography from the screening and ticketing areas at the airports used by the attackers, including Dulles in Virginia and Newark.
The government's motion said that the Federal Aviation Administration and the courts have long withheld information on airport and air carrier security procedures from criminal defendants and the public. Dissemination of the procedures could make it more difficult to prevent an attack, the government said.
Moussaoui is charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, pirate aircraft, destroy aircraft, use weapons of mass destruction, murder U.S. government employees and destroy property.