A federal judge Wednesday postponed the June trial of terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, allowing time for an appellate court to decide whether he can have access to an Al Qaeda prisoner.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema did not set a new date, but noted the government has proposed that jury selection begin in September and opening arguments in October.
Brinkema has issued a secret ruling that would allow Moussaoui access to the prisoner, suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Ramzi Binalshibh, according to a government official speaking only on condition of anonymity. Binalshibh was arrested in Pakistan and is being interrogated in an undisclosed location.
The government has notified the court it would contest the ruling in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
"Given the pending ... appeal, we find that the current trial schedule is no longer practicable," Brinkema said in a two-page ruling. She also agreed with a court filing by Moussaoui that it would be unreasonable to set new dates while the appeal was pending.
Brinkema said she would continue to resolve pretrial matters during the appeal, including issues concerning the use, relevance or admissibility of classified information.
Jury selection had been scheduled for May 27, with opening statements set for June 30.
Moussaoui originally was indicted Dec. 11, 2001, and the government has said it would seek the death penalty if he were convicted. Moussaoui, whose trial originally had been scheduled for last fall, has admitted belonging to the Al Qaeda terror network but has denied a role in the attacks.
The Bush administration is reluctant to have Binalshibh testify in a public trial, where he could reveal sensitive information. If Brinkema's ruling survives appeals, the government could drop the case in a civilian court and move it to a military tribunal, which could operate under greater secrecy.
Moussaoui is representing himself. A defense team, appointed by the court to assist him, has asked Brinkema to avoid a trial near the two-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people.