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No sanctions in lone September 11 case before August

Zacarias Moussaoui denies involvement in the September 11 attacks.
Zacarias Moussaoui denies involvement in the September 11 attacks.

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(CNN) -- The legal penalties that may be levied against the Justice Department for refusing to make a key witness available to Zacarias Moussaoui won't be decided for at least a month.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has ordered federal prosecutors and attorneys assisting Moussaoui to file briefs outlining their positions for appropriate sanctions.

Moussaoui, who is representing himself, will get the last word; his paperwork is due August 11.

This week the government formally notified Brinkema that it will defy her order allowing access to Ramzi Binalshibh, a senior al Qaeda leader in U.S. custody overseas who, Moussaoui believes, can exonerate him of any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Brinkema has sided with defense attorney arguments that Moussaoui's right to a fair trial hinges on the Sixth Amendment right to call available witnesses of his choosing.

The Bush administration, citing national security risks, steadfastly opposes allowing the deposition of Binalshibh, which would be videotaped via satellite.

"The deposition, which would involve an admitted and unrepentant terrorist (the defendant) questioning one of his al Qaeda confederates, would necessarily result in the unauthorized disclosure of classified information," the Justice Department told Brinkema Monday.

Prosecutors also contend Brinkema's order infringes on President Bush's constitutional power as commander-in-chief.

The government appealed Brinkema's order to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, which declined to rule on the matter until sanctions were imposed.

Defense attorney Frank Dunham suggested during oral arguments before the appeals court last month that appropriate sanctions could involve stripping Binalshibh references from the Moussaoui indictment, blocking the government's pursuit of the death penalty, or dismissing the case.

The legal standoff has indefinitely delayed the trial of Moussaoui, 35, a French citizen, the lone U.S. defendant charged with September 11-related crimes.

Moussaoui admits belonging to al Qaeda but has claimed he was tapped for an unspecified, later plot that would have occurred outside the United States.

Like the 19 hijackers, Moussaoui attended U.S. flight schools and allegedly attended al Qaeda paramilitary camp in Afghanistan.

But he was jailed on an immigration violation a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The U.S. has held Binalshibh, 31, a Yemeni who was a member of Al Qaeda's September 11 leadership cell in Hamburg, Germany, as an enemy combatant overseas since he was captured 10 months ago in Pakistan.


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