WASHINGTON – The government is seeking a fast-track appeal hearing in its case against terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui (search) to regain the right to present evidence that could link the defendant to the Sept. 11 attacks.
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty (search) asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday to hear arguments the week of Dec. 2. Moussaoui was indicted on Dec. 11, 2001, in the only U.S. case to arise from the suicide hijackings.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty and banned "any evidence or argument that the defendant was involved in, or had knowledge of, the planning or execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
McNulty said after the ruling that restoring the government's Sept. 11 evidence against Moussaoui is essential.
His statement left open the possibility that the government could move the trial to a special military tribunal, such as Bush established on Nov. 13, 2001, to try non-Americans arrested in the international fight against terror. No use has been acknowledged of the tribunals, which afford defendants far fewer rights than civil trials.
Brinkema imposed her punishment because the government defied her orders to make three Al Qaeda prisoners available for questioning by Moussaoui. Brinkema had concluded that Moussaoui had the constitutional right to question captives who might back his claim that he was not a conspirator in the suicide hijackings.
This is the second time the government has appealed the witness access question. Prosecutors contend that anything the captives say could reveal classified information and argue that courts have no right to interfere with interrogation of wartime prisoners.
The Richmond, Va., court dismissed the government's first appeal, which challenged Brinkema's order to make available the Sept. 11 organizer, Ramzi Binalshibh. The dismissal was technical, however, with the court ruling that it would not intervene before Brinkema imposed her sanctions for the government's defiance.
Since that dismissal, Brinkema has not only handed down her punishment but also authorized Moussaoui to question two additional prisoners: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the attacks, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a suspected paymaster for Al Qaeda.