Guilty plea to end Moussaoui's US legal battle

22nd April 2005, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, April 22 (AFP) - Self-declared Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, who long argued he had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks, was due in court Friday to plead guilty to conspiracy charges related to the hijackings.

WASHINGTON, April 22 (AFP) - Self-declared Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, who long argued he had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks, was due in court Friday to plead guilty to conspiracy charges related to the hijackings.

The move could lead the way to the Frenchman's execution, as four of the six charges he faces carry the death penalty.

Moussaoui is the only person to face US charges connected to the attacks which killed some 3,000 people.

On Wednesday, after meeting with Moussaoui and one of his lawyers, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that he was mentally competent to change his plea, although his representatives have objected.

"Our view of his competence is that he's not competent," one of the lawyers, Frank Dunham, told The New York Times.

If Moussaoui enters the guilty plea as planned, the judge could set a date for the penalty phase at which a jury would decide whether Moussaoui should be executed. Evidence in those proceedings could include dramatic testimony from victims of the attacks.

Until now, Moussaoui has said that although he is a member of Al-Qaeda, he was meant to participate in plots other than the September 11, 2001 hijackings.

His claim is partially supported by the September 11 Commission, which said that captured Al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told interrogators that Moussaoui was not part of the plot but was instead to be used in a loosely planned "second wave" of attacks on the West Coast.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said the guilty plea was "ridiculous."

"There are significant legal issues remaining in the Moussaoui case, some of which could be litigated in front of the Supreme Court," he said. "He might be pleading guilty to crimes he may not have committed."

A former senior Justice Department official agreed.

"I can conceive of no reason why someone in his circumstance would rationally plead guilty to these charges ... unless you consider a desire for martyrdom rational," said Robert Litt.

Nineteen men hijacked four jets and crashed them into the twin World Trade Centre towers in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.

As part of his defence strategy, Moussaoui and his lawyers sought access to three top Al-Qaeda operatives in US custody: Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shaiba and Moustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi - all accused Al-Qaeda organizers and financiers. Mohammed is considered the number-three in Al-Qaeda.

The move repeatedly delayed Moussaoui's trial as both sides wrangled over access to the detainees, which the US Justice Department claimed would threaten US security and classified information.

Last month, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government, ending the debate.

In 2002, Moussaoui tried to plead guilty but reneged after the judge gave him a week to think about his offer. Later that year, he fired his lawyers and decided to represent himself. But his rambling, handwritten proceedings, which often included invectives against his lawyers and the judge, led Brinkema to revoke his right serve as his own lawyer in 2003.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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