Moussaoui wins another ruling for witness access
Judge grants request for testimony from al Qaeda figures
By Phil Hirschkorn
(CNN) -- Accused September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui has won another court ruling to obtain access to a top al Qaeda captive, but the government is certain to appeal.
Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Virginia, granted Moussaoui's request for testimony from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the reputed architect of the hijacking attacks on New York and Washington, according to sources familiar with the ruling.
Brinkema's order and opinion remain under seal.
Moussaoui had petitioned the trial court for access to Mohammed, who he believes can give testimony absolving him of any role in the plot.
A joint team of Pakistani and FBI agents caught Mohammed and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, one of the hijackers' alleged moneymen, March 1 at an al Qaeda safe house in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, a few miles from the capital, Islamabad.
Three days later, Moussaoui, who is heading up his own defense from jail, filed a handwritten motion for access to Mohammed, calling him a "top mujahid brother."
He asked for access to al-Hawsawi a week later.
Mohammed and al-Hawsawi are both being held at undisclosed military locations.
Moussaoui, 35, a French national, is a self-described "holy warrior" who acknowledges belonging to al Qaeda and swears allegiance to the terrorist group's leader, Osama bin Laden.
The question of access to fellow al Qaeda members has indefinitely delayed the trial of Moussaoui, the sole person charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks.
Attorneys assisting Moussaoui's defense have suggested that the government might choose to declare Moussaoui an enemy combatant and move his case to a military tribunal instead of allowing him to talk with detained al Qaeda members.
Moussaoui denies any role in the terrorist attacks that left more than 3,000 dead at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a plane believed to have been headed for the U.S. Capitol crashed after a passenger uprising.
Moussaoui's request for access to Mohammed and al-Hawsawi echoed his earlier motion to question alleged September 11 attack coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh, who has been in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location overseas for nearly a year.
Brinkema agreed that Moussaoui's right to a fair trial hinged on calling an available witness with potentially exculpatory evidence in the case of Binalshibh.
She applied the same logic to Friday's ruling, one source said.
Brinkema is currently weighing sanctions against the Justice Department for refusing to allow the recorded satellite-fed deposition of Binalshibh that she had ordered.
The government plans to refile its appeal of that order after Brinkema imposes sanctions, which could range up to a dismissal of the case.
The government objects to Mohammed and Binalshibh becoming trial witnesses on national security grounds, saying no court can order the executive branch to produce an enemy combatant detained on foreign soil and that doing so would disrupt the war on terrorism.
Brinkema has rejected Moussaoui's requests for access to two other captured al Qaeda notables -- top lieutenant Abu Zubaydah and terrorist camp leader Ibn Shaiykh al-Libi -- though she has not made her reasons public.
Attorneys: Moussaoui was for plot outside U.S.
Attorneys assisting Moussaoui have said in court documents that no evidence links him to the 19 hijackers, and that Moussaoui contends he had been tapped to participate in a post-September 11 attack on U.S. interests outside the United States.
Prosecutors have told Brinkema in closed court hearings that, on the contrary, Moussaoui intended to fly a plane into the White House, either on September 11 or another time.
Moussaoui was jailed in August 2001 on an immigration violation after arousing suspicions at a Minnesota flight school for seeking Boeing 747 simulator training when he didn't even have a pilot's license.
Binalshibh, 31, a Yemeni who was a member of al Qaeda's September 11 leadership cell in Hamburg, Germany, is accused in the Moussaoui indictment of wiring $14,000 to Moussaoui days before his arrest.
Mohammed, 39, a Pakistani, has been wanted since 1995 on federal charges that he conspired, with nephew Ramzi Yousef, the leader of the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing, in a Philippines-based plot to blow up 11 airliners simultaneously in the Far East.
Al-Hawsawi, 35, a Saudi, is accused in the Moussaoui indictment of transferring thousands of dollars from accounts he controlled in Dubai, UAE, to hijackers' accounts in the United States.