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Judge releases documents in Moussaoui case

Three orders from bench opened to public

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

Zacarias Moussaoui is charged with conspiring in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Zacarias Moussaoui is charged with conspiring in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- A federal judge released sealed court documents Tuesday in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, the only U.S. criminal prosecution resulting from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema released three of her own orders, which had been sealed for as long as five weeks.

Her move followed Monday's notice by prosecutors that they did not object to releasing some of the sealed court papers. Those include judge's orders and motions filed under seal by Moussaoui, the defense attorneys assisting him, or by the government in the past seven months, after Brinkema imposed procedures for handling sensitive case documents.

The unsealed orders do not break new ground in the case. Two of them respond to Moussaoui motions, previously made public, that request "urgent" access to al Qaeda captives in U.S. custody.

Al Qaeda carried out the September 11 attacks, in which more than 3,000 were killed.

The suspected al Qaeda detainees include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accused of being one of the lead planners of the attacks, and Mohamed al-Hawsawi, alleged paymaster to the 19 hijackers who crashed four airliners into the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Moussaoui believes Mohammed and al-Hawsawi can provide evidence to clear him. CNN has previously reported that Mohammed has told his interrogators that Moussaoui was not tapped for the hijackings, as he is currently charged.

The defendant acknowledges belonging to al Qaeda but denies any role in the plot.

Brinkema's unsealed orders stayed the defendant's motions until an appeals court in Richmond resolves the issue of Moussaoui's access to the suspected al Qaeda members in U.S. custody.

The pending appeal stems from Brinkema's secret order in February granting Moussaoui access to another key September 11 operative, Ramzi Binalshibh.

Last year, the judge also took steps to prevent the unwarranted disclosure of classified evidence to Moussaoui.

A government specialist reviews evidence containing classified information and reviews the sensitive data before they are shared with the defendant.

Moussaoui, 34, a French citizen, is representing himself but has a trio of Virginia-based, court-appointed lawyers on "standby" status preparing for his indefinitely delayed trial.

'Shroud of secrecy'

The judge has long been troubled by Moussaoui's threats and inappropriate language, including racial slurs, that repeatedly appear in his handwritten jailhouse motions.

Earlier this month, though, Brinkema said she sympathized with requests for more information and complained that the government has cast a "shroud of secrecy" over the case.

In September, responding to a request by CNN and other news organizations, Brinkema decided to unseal Moussaoui's often inflammatory motions after the government has a chance to review them.

The government, concerned about Moussaoui's potential efforts to send sympathizers coded messages or calls to action, has 10 days to vet his writings and suggest edits, or redactions, to eliminate statements that could affect national security.

Since the rule was imposed, though, dozens of documents have been shielded from public view, prompting another protest by several news organizations that cited the First Amendment and the public's right to know.

"There is no First Amendment right of access to the entire record in a criminal case," wrote Paul McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

"With respect to the media's access to classified information, there simply is no First Amendment right of access," he said, citing more than two dozen documents that should remain under seal.

Prosecutors named at least 20 court documents they did not oppose unsealing but asked that foreign governments be allowed to review certain other documents first.

"Premature release without consultation will directly impact the foreign relations of the United States and jeopardize the ability of the United States to work with other nations in its investigations and pursuit of al Qaeda operatives outside the United States," prosecutors wrote.

Germany and France are among the nations that have provided evidence against Moussaoui.

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