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Fighting terror

Appeal might stall Moussaoui trial

©Associated Press
February 8, 2003

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The Bush administration asked a judge Friday to stop proceedings against Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone person charged in the Sept. 11 attacks, until an appeals court settles national security questions.

An unidentified government official indicated a key question is whether Moussaoui should have the right to question, or receive statements, from Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected al-Qaida mastermind in custody.

The indictment says Binalshibh has been in contact with Moussaoui. The government might consider his statements so sensitive it would move the Moussaoui case to a secret military tribunal rather than permit Binalshibh to reveal information at a public trial.

"Under the current circumstances of this case, it would be impracticable to continue this litigation until the issues presented to the 4th Circuit are resolved," said the motion by U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty in Alexandria, referring to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The trial is scheduled for June 30.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who is hearing the case, did not rule on the request.

Moussaoui, representing himself, reportedly wants to question Binalshibh, and a defendant normally has the right to question witnesses who potentially could help the defense.

The implications of the appeal could range beyond the Moussaoui case. If Binalshibh's testimony is admitted, it could set a precedent that could bring statements from other captured people into public trials.

If the government can't keep Binalshibh's statements from the public, "I think this trial will be stopped dead in its tracks, and the Bush administration will move to put it before a military tribunal," said Robert Precht, an assistant dean at the University of Michigan's law school.

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