A federal judge handed the United States government a huge setback today by ruling that prosecutors can not make any allegations that Zacarias Moussaoui was linked to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The judge, Leonie M. Brinkema of Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., also barred the government from seeking the death penalty for Mr. Moussaoui.
Judge Brinkema was responding to the government's refusal to obey her order to allow the defense to have access to captured members of Al Qaeda.
"It would simply be unfair to require Moussaoui to defend against such prejudicial accusations while being denied the ability to present testimony from witnesses who could assist him in contradicting those accusations," the judge said in her opinion.
Mr. Moussaoui is accused of participating in a broad conspiracy to commit terrorism against the United States, including the Sept. 11 attacks. He is the only person charged in an American court with conspiring in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The Justice Department has said that the government could not produce captured Qaeda witnesses, even those who might have helped direct Mr. Moussaoui's actions, because of the possible public disclosure of classified information.
Judge Brinkema said her decision today should not take effect until the government has had a chance to appeal, which the government was certain to do quickly. The next stop is the Court of Appeals for the fourth circuit in Richmond.
Prosecutors argued that Mr. Moussaoui has no right to question witnesses held overseas as enemy combatants. Court-appointed lawyers for Mr. Moussaoui had argued, and the judge agreed, that the prisoners might be able to offer testimony showing that he had no part in the conspiracy.
The judge's ruling came as a surprise to both the prosecution and the defense because both sides had been anticipating that the judge would dismiss the indictment.
The Justice Department announced last week that it would not object if Judge Brinkema dismissed the indictment. Prosecutors had said that throwing out the charges would be the quickest route to intervention by an appellate court on the witness-access issue. But legal analysts say that in light of today's ruling, prosecutors might have a harder time convincing an appeals court to overrule Judge Brinkema on the witnesses issue.
"The unprecedented investment of both human and material resources in this case mandates the careful consideration of some sanction other than dismissal," the judge said. "Finding that this case can be resolved in an open and public forum, the Court concludes that the interests of justice would not be well served by dismissal."www.nytimes.com/2003/10/02/national/02CND-SUSPECT.html?hpE-mail this article