4th Circuit to close part of Moussaoui hearing

By The Associated Press
11.20.03

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court will hear arguments in public and in secret on whether to give al-Qaida defendant Zacarias Moussaoui access to three colleagues in Osama bin Laden's organization.

The closed session Dec. 3 will allow for discussion of classified information, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., said yesterday. The public session is to take place that morning.

The court is following the same procedure as last summer, when the government and Moussaoui's lawyers argued over his access to a single al-Qaida prisoner.

Moussaoui now seeks access to that captive, alleged Sept. 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh; and two other prisoners, alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a suspected paymaster for al-Qaida.

Last summer, the appeals court said it wouldn't intervene until the government refused to make the witnesses available and the trial judge imposed a punishment for the Justice Department's disobedience.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema took action in early October, barring the government from presenting evidence related to the Sept. 11 attacks and prohibiting the death penalty for Moussaoui, a French citizen. The government appealed that decision.

Moussaoui is charged with joining an al-Qaida conspiracy that included the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other planned terrorist acts against the United States. This is the only U.S. case to arise from the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings.

The public arguments will focus on the appeals court's jurisdiction; a defendant's right to question enemy combatants held overseas; and whether the district court had the authority to grant Moussaoui access to the prisoners.

The government originally requested dismissal of the charges as a procedural move to get the case before the appellate judges. The 4th Circuit asked whether the government — by its earlier position — waived its right to oppose the lesser punishment of barring Sept. 11 evidence and the death penalty.