First US trial of 9/11 case was full of surprises

By | November 18, 2009

First US trial of 9/11 case was full of surprises

Zacarias Moussaoui was a clown who could not keep his mouth shut, according to his old al-Qaida boss, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But Moussaoui was surprisingly tame when tried for the 9/11 attacks — never turning the courtroom into the circus of anti-U.S. tirades that some fear Mohammed will create at his trial in New York.

And that wasn't the only surprise during Moussaoui's six-week 2006 sentencing trial here — a proceeding that might foreshadow how the upcoming 9/11 trial in New York will go.

Skeptics who feared prosecutors would be hamstrung by how much evidence was secret were stunned at the enormous amount of classified data that was scrubbed, under pressure from the judge, into a public version acceptable to both sides.

Prosecutors were surprised when they failed to get the death penalty — by the vote of one juror.

No one was more surprised than Moussaoui himself: At the end he concluded an al-Qaida member like him could get a fair trial in a U.S. court.

“I had thought that I would be sentenced to death based on the emotions and anger toward me for the deaths on Sept. 11,” Moussaoui said in an appeal deposition taken after he was sentenced to life in prison. “(B)ut after reviewing the jury verdict and reading how the jurors set aside their emotions and disgust for me and focused on the law and the evidence … I now see that it is possible that I can receive a fair trial.”

… All that suggests the dire predictions of critics and confident assertions of proponents should be viewed skeptically as prosecutors prepare to put Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and four of his alleged henchmen on trial in a civilian federal court.

The five had been headed for a military tribunal at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week he would charge them in civilian court and expects to seek the death penalty. …

Sorting through classified evidence should be easier in the upcoming case, experts said. First, the Moussaoui case generated detailed appellate rulings to guide lower courts. Second, much that was highly sensitive in 2003 may be far less so now.

On the other hand, there was no allegation Moussaoui was tortured into confessing, but coerced confessions or statements might be significant at Mohammed’s trial. U.S. civilian courts bar evidence obtained under coercion, which could exclude what Mohammed told investigators after, as the Justice Department has acknowledged, he was waterboarded 183 times. …

Paul McNulty, U.S. attorney here when Moussaoui was prosecuted, said there is a crucial difference in the two cases: Moussaoui pleaded guilty, so the sentencing trial focused only on his punishment and there was no chance he’d go free. No one knows whether any New York defendants will contest their guilt.

McNulty wondered whether the public is willing to accept the chance of an acquittal.

McNulty expects New York judges to be as tough as Brinkema on issues like ensuring defendants access to witnesses. “It could get complicated very quickly,” he said.

“It’s not supposed to be easy,” defense counsel MacMahon said. “The law makes it very difficult to obtain a death sentence. The government basically has to pitch a perfect game to win a death penalty.”

via First US trial of 9/11 case was full of surprises – Yahoo! News.

I get sick of reporters interpreting what he said. I want to know what he actually said. Here are the transcripts from his 2006 trial. More here (pdfs).  I couldn’t find them from the recent trial.  More actual documents here, including a brief that was once TOP SECRET (now redacted) which talks about 9/11. The brief had “Top Secret//HUMINT//ORCON/NOFORM//MR” on it. What do these mean?

FAS had some info.

Top Secret =  applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.
HUMINT = Human Intelligence. Typically information gathered from interpersonal contact.
ORCON = Originator Control is an access control policy that requires recipients to gain originator’s approval for re-dissemination of a disseminated digital object.
NOFORM= A marking to identify classified intel that may not be released in any form to foreign governments, foreign or non-US citizens without permission of the originator.
MR = Manual Review



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