This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/1803
March 29, 2006
MIM:More evidence of why terror trials and life in prison won't deter terrorism. Moussauoui, who intially refused to recognise the non Muslim court, declared the he had intended to fly a plane into the White House with Richard Reid.
War on Terror
Moussaoui's testimony on his own behalf stunned the courtroom. His account was in stark contrast to his previous statements in which he said the White House attack was to come later if the United States refused to release an Egyptian sheik imprisoned on separate terrorist convictions.
On Dec. 22, 2001, Reid was subdued by passengers when he attempted to detonate a bomb in his shoe aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. The plane was diverted to Boston, where it landed safely.
Moussaoui told the court he knew the World Trade Center attack was coming and he lied to investigators when arrested in August 2001 because he wanted it to happen.
"You lied because you wanted to conceal that you were a member of al-Qaeda?" prosecutor Rob Spencer asked.
"That's correct," Moussaoui said.
Spencer: "You lied so the plan could go forward?"
Moussaoui: "That's correct."
The exchange could be key to the government's case that the attacks might have been averted if Moussaoui had been more cooperative following his arrest.
Moussaoui told the court he knew the attacks were to take place some time after August 2001 and bought a radio so he could hear them unfold.
Specifically, he said he knew the World Trade Center was going to be attacked, but he asserted he was not involved in that part of the plot and didn't know the details.
Nineteen men pulled off the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington in the worst act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil.
"I had knowledge that the Twin Towers would be hit," Moussaoui said. "I didn't know the details of this."
Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son Christian died at the World Trade Center, said "at least there would have been a chance" to head off the attacks if Moussaoui had told investigators in August 2001 what she heard him admit in court Monday.
"I was convinced that this man was only a heartbeat away from taking the controls of a plane," she said.
Asked by his lawyer why he signed his guilty plea in April as "the 20th hijacker," Moussaoui replied: "Because everybody used to refer to me as the 20th hijacker and it was a bit of fun."
Before Moussaoui took the stand, his lawyers made a last attempt to stop him from testifying. Defense attorney Gerald Zerkin argued that his client would not be a competent witness because he has contempt for the court, only recognizes Islamic law and therefore "the affirmation he undertakes would be meaningless."
Moussaoui denied he was to have been a fifth hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93, which four al-Qaeda hijackers flew into a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11 – the so-called missing 20th hijacker. But he quickly added that he was part of the 9/11 operation, ordered to pilot a fifth jetliner into the White House. He said Reid was the only person he knew for sure would have been on that mission, but others were discussed.
Reid pleaded guilty in October 2002 to trying to blow up Flight 63 and was sentenced to life in prison.
Moussaoui testified that at one point he was excluded from pre-hijacking operations because he had gotten in trouble with his al-Qaeda superiors on a 2000 trip to Malaysia. He said it was only after he was called back to Afghanistan and talked with Osama bin Laden that he was approved again for the operation.
"My position was, like you say, under review."
The 19 terrorists on Sept. 11 hijacked and crashed four airliners, killing nearly 3,000 people in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on the planes. The intended target of the plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field remains unknown.
Moussaoui testified for nearly three hours, ending his time on the stand by declaring his gratitude that he was an al-Qaeda member. When Spencer asked him if he was also grateful to have been the fifth pilot, the defendant merely said: "I'm grateful."
Moussaoui's lawyer asked him whether he thought anything in his testimony or court proceedings would affect his fate. He replied: "I believe in destiny. God gives life and death. I just have to speak the truth and God will take care of the rest."
Before Moussaoui took the stand, the court heard testimony that two months before the attacks a CIA deputy chief waited in vain for permission to tell the FBI about a "very high interest" al-Qaeda operative who became one of the hijackers.
The official, a senior figure in the CIA's Laden unit, said he sought authorization on July 13, 2001, to send information to the FBI but got no response for 10 days, then asked again.
As it turned out, the information on Khalid al-Mihdhar did not reach the FBI until late August. At the time, CIA officers needed permission from a special unit before passing certain intelligence on to the FBI.
The official was identified only as John. His written testimony was read into the record.
"John's" testimony was part of the defense's case that federal authorities missed multiple opportunities to catch hijackers and perhaps thwart the 9/11 plot.
His testimony included an e-mail sent by FBI supervisor Michael Maltbie discussing Moussaoui but playing down his terrorist connections. Maltbie's e-mail said "there's no indication that (Moussaoui) had plans for any nefarious activity."
He sent that e-mail to the CIA even after receiving a lengthy memo from the FBI agent who arrested Moussaoui and suspected him of being a terrorist with plans to hijack aircraft.
Prosecutors argue that Moussaoui, a French citizen, thwarted a prime opportunity to track down the 9/11 hijackers and possibly unravel the plot when he was arrested and lied.
Had Moussaoui confessed, the FBI could have pursued leads that would have led them to most of the hijackers, government witnesses have testified.
To win the death penalty, prosecutors must first prove that Moussaoui's actions – specifically, his lies – were directly responsible for at least one death on Sept. 11.
If they fail, Moussaoui would get life in prison.
Associated Press writers Michael J. Sniffen and Amy Westfeldt contributed to this report.
Moussaoui to testify vs.himself
Al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui offered last month to testify for prosecutors against himself at his death-penalty trial and told agents that he did not want to die in prison, according to last-minute testimony Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema set Wednesday afternoon for closing arguments on whether the actions Moussaoui has admitted make him eligible for the death penalty. The jury must decide whether the only man charged in this country in the Sept. 11 plot will be executed or imprisoned for life.
Moussaoui offered on Feb. 2, just before jury selection began, to testify that he was to have hijacked and piloted a fifth plane on Sept. 11, 2001. He did not ask that prosecutors stop pursuing the death penalty in return. He sought only better conditions in prison and a promise not to be called to testify against other al-Qaida members.
FBI agent James Fitzgerald said Moussaoui told him ¡ª in a jailhouse meeting the defendant requested ¡ª that he did not want to die behind bars and it was "different to die in a battle ... than in a jail on a toilet." Moussaoui dropped this bid after he learned that he had an absolute right to testify in his own defense.
On Monday, he stunned the court by asserting that he was to fly a 747 jetliner into the White House on Sept. 11, despite having claimed for three years that he had no role in the plot. Instead, he had said he was to be part of a possible later assault.
The February meeting was to have been off the record but was introduced by prosecutors to rebut a defense exhibit. Closing its case Tuesday, the defense had introduced a partial transcript of Moussaoui's guilty plea last April.
In that 2005 pleading, Moussaoui said, "Everybody knows that I'm not 9/11 material." He said Sept. 11 "is not my conspiracy." He said he was going to attack the White House if the United States did not release radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned for other terrorist crimes.
The latest strange turn in Moussaoui's behavior could bolster the defense's claims that he would say anything to achieve martyrdom. Defense attorney Edward MacMahon told jurors in opening remarks that Moussaoui can only achieve that now if they vote to execute him. "Don't make him a hero," MacMahon pleaded.
Prosecutors got Brinkema to bar a repeat of that plea as an emotional rather than legal argument. But she agreed to allow MacMahon to argue Wednesday that evidence of a desire for martyrdom calls into question the credibility of Moussaoui's confession to being a part of Sept. 11.
The defense closed out its case Tuesday by using two high-ranking al-Qaida operatives to rebut their own client's claim that his plan to attack the White House was part of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The leaders of Osama bin Laden's terrorist group cast doubt on whether Moussaoui was part of Sept. 11, one portraying him as a misfit who refused to follow orders.
Tuesday's proceedings were quite unusual for an American courtroom: Defense attorneys ¡ª appointed by the court to represent a client who despises them ¡ª tried to undermine the defendant's own bombshell testimony of Monday by using witnesses who were not present or seen in the courtroom, primarily because the government refused to allow captured al-Qaida members to appear for national security reasons.
Testimony from five al-Qaida members was read to the jury as defense attorneys tried to undo damage Moussaoui might have done to his case when he testified against their advice.
One terrorist, identified as Sayf al-Adl, a senior member of al-Qaida's military committee and close aide to bin Laden, stated sometime between Sept. 1, 2001, and late July 2004 that Moussaoui was "a confirmed jihadist but was absolutely not going to take part in the Sept. 11, 2001, mission." The 9/11 Commission reported the U.S. recovered from a safehouse in Pakistan a letter written by al-Adl describing the various candidates considered for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Another top terrorist witness ¡ª Waleed bin Attash, known as Khallad ¡ª is considered the mastermind of the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole and an early planner of the Sept. 11 plot. He said he knew of no part that Moussaoui was to have played in the Sept. 11 attacks. Khallad was captured in April 2003.
Their testimony supports that of another captive, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief organizer of the Sept. 11 attacks. He said in testimony read Monday that Moussaoui had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 plot, but was to have been part of a later wave of attacks.
Most of the testimony of al-Qaida operatives was compiled from statements made during U.S. interrogations. The captives themselves have never spoken to either defense attorneys or prosecutors in this case, because prosecutors prevailed in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over the defense's request to question these witnesses live in court, or at least on videotape.
Also Tuesday, defense attorney Alan Yamamoto read portions of the joint Sept. 11 report by the Senate and House intelligence committees. The panel said that before Sept. 11, the U.S. intelligence community produced 12 reports between 1994 and 2001 "suggesting that terrorists might use airplanes as weapons." Later, the defense played videotape of then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other top officials telling the 9/11 Commission they had no inkling al-Qaida had considered using airplanes as missiles.
This combination supported the defense theory that the government knew more beforehand than Moussaoui about Sept. 11 but ignored or bungled leads that might have unraveled the plot. Prosecutors contend Moussaoui's lying to FBI agents upon arrest prevented the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration from identifying the hijackers and keeping them off airplanes on Sept. 11.
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/1803