Moussaoui Deprived of Constitutional Rights, Attorneys Say

Zacarias Moussaoui is serving a life prison term for the 2001 attacks.
Zacarias Moussaoui is serving a life prison term for the 2001 attacks. (AP )
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By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

Zacarias Moussaoui's guilty plea and life prison term for conspiring in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks should be overturned because his case was riddled with errors that deprived him of his constitutional rights, his attorneys said in court papers unsealed yesterday.

In their opening brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, the attorneys said Moussaoui could not choose his own counsel at trial or learn much of the evidence against him because it was secret.

"Moussaoui faced the choice between pleading guilty and facing a fundamentally unfair trial in a death-penalty case. This was an unconstitutional choice, and his plea was involuntary as a result,'' the attorneys, Justin S. Antonipillai and Barbara L. Hartung, wrote in the redacted, 207-page document. The document asks the 4th Circuit to void Moussaoui's guilty plea and order a new trial or, if the plea stands, to send the case back to a federal judge in Alexandria for re-sentencing.

"Are federal courts willing to compromise or eliminate constitutional protections if the indictment arises in the context of a terrorism case?'' the appeal asks.

Federal prosecutors in Alexandria yesterday declined to comment. Their reply brief has not been filed.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty in 2005 to taking part in a broad al-Qaeda conspiracy to crash planes into U.S. buildings that led to the Sept. 11 attacks. He is the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

After a two-month sentencing trial that included harrowing testimony from 9/11 family members and Moussaoui's declaration that he was supposed to fly a fifth hijacked plane into the White House on Sept. 11, a federal jury found that Moussaoui should be sentenced to life in prison rather than death. He is now serving that term.

In their brief, the attorneys acknowledged that Moussaoui, who was arrested more than three weeks before Sept. 11, after his behavior aroused suspicion at a Minnesota flight school, is an admitted member of al-Qaeda and became "one of the most reviled people in America.''

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