Moussaoui jurors face questions about 9/11
Federal prosecutors submit 31-page jury questionnaire
From Phil Hirschkorn
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Prosecutors want to ask jurors who will decide the punishment for a convicted al Qaeda terrorist about their views of capital punishment and whether they know anyone who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The issues are raised in a 31-page proposed jury questionnaire prosecutors submitted Monday to the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Defense lawyers for Zacarias Moussaoui are working on their own questionnaire.
Moussaoui pleaded guilty in April to joining al Qaeda's terrorist conspiracy to crash planes into landmark buildings. A penalty phase trial will take place early next year.
The 12 jurors will decide whether Moussaoui will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole or die by lethal injection, the only form of execution used in the federal system.
They will be chosen from a pool of 500 jurors who will assemble at the federal courthouse on February 6 to fill out the questionnaires.
The following week, lawyers will quiz prospective jurors during follow-up interviews in court. The jurors' identities will be shielded from the judge, attorneys and the media -- a common practice in terrorism cases.
The questionnaire proposed by the government asks prospective jurors whether they, family members or friends know anyone who was a victim of the attacks that killed 2,973 people at the World Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and in a plane that crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The questionnaire also asks jurors what they know about about the 19 hijackers who crashed passenger jets into the twin towers of the trade center, the Pentagon, and the field near Shanksville.
It includes questions about Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leaders of al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist group behind the attacks.
Prosecutors also want to ask jurors whether they have ever worked in an airport, as a firefighter, or at the Pentagon, which is in the court's jurisdiction.
Moussaoui, 37, a French national from Morocco, has admitted joining al Qaeda and pledging loyalty to bin Laden, attending training camps in Afghanistan and coming to the United States hoping to fly a plane into the White House.
Prosecutors have not proven that Moussaoui had any direct role in the attacks, but the government contends his lies to FBI agents after his arrest four weeks before September 11 covered up the conspiracy and contributed to the mass casualties.
"The questions that are being asked are standard for federal death penalty cases," said David Runhke, a New Jersey attorney who has represented more than two dozen defendants in death penalty cases. His clients include Khalfan Khamis Mohammed, who carried out al Qaeda's 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tanzania, which killed 11 people and injured dozens.
The New York jury that convicted Mohammed in 2001 rejected prosecutors' call for the death penalty and imposed a life sentence.
"The question I would like to see asked in cases involving terrorism is whether jurors could give fair consideration to mitigating circumstances," Runhke added.
The proposed questionnaire in the Moussaoui case asks potential jurors if they have ever undergone flight training, like Moussaoui, who first raised suspicion at a Minnesota flight school in August 2001 when he arrived to use a 747 simulator without having obtained a pilot's license.
Prospective jurors will be asked whether they or any relatives have served in the military, if anyone in their families is stationed by the military in the Middle East, and if they know anyone who lives in that region.
In addition to basic personal information such as education and occupation, the questionnaire asks prospective jurors their religion and how often they attend a houses of worship, and whether they know anything about Islam.
The government also wants to know whether prospective jurors speak Arabic or know anyone of Arab descent, like Moussaoui, where they get their news, and what civic groups they belong to.
The questionnaire inquires about attitudes toward crime, law enforcement agencies, and the death penalty -- weighing the depth of their opposition or support, when they believe it might be justified, or whether life imprisonment might be worse punishment.
"If the evidence in this case establishes that the death penalty is appropriate under the law, could you vote to impose the death penalty upon a defendant," the proposed questionnaire asks.
A simple "yes" or "no" answer is required.
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