The Case of Zacarias Moussaoui

U.S. Government seeks Death for Association

Revolutionary Worker #1148, April 28, 2002, posted at

On March 28, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the U.S. government would seek the death penalty against Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the September 11 attacks.

The government indictment against Moussaoui presents no evidence that directly ties him to the 19 people identified as the men who hijacked three planes on September 11. And it presents no evidence that Moussaoui even knew about the events of September 11 in advance. In fact, Moussaoui was in a federal prison in Minnesota on September 11for a visa violation. All the evidence cited against him is circumstantial . He is not charged with murder but six counts of conspiracy--four of which could result in a sentence of death.

The indictment details alleged terrorist crimes committed by Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda organization. Then based on allegations that Moussaoui has some connection to Al Qaeda--and behavior similar to the September 11 hijackers--he is charged with conspiracy.

The only indirect links the indictment itself alleges exist between Moussaoui and Al Qaeda or the September 11 hijackers is that Moussaoui was at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and that he was wired $14,000 by Ramzi Bin al-Shibh--who also wired money to the hijackers. The government tries to "tie" Moussaoui to the events of September 11 by accusing him of engaging in behavior similar to the other hijackers: attending flight school, purchasing flight training videos and knives, going to a gym and gathering information about crop dusting.

There are troubling inconsistencies in the government's story. In August 2001 Moussaoui enrolled in a flight school at the Pan Am Training Center in Eagan, Minnesota. He told employees he wanted to learn to take off and land a jumbo jet. Yet for almost three months anonymous "law enforcement sources" were widely quoted in the media saying Moussaoui aroused suspicion because he only wanted to learn how to fly a plane, not take off and land. Then the Associated Press reported that on November 14, FBI Director Robert Mueller told federal prosecutors in a closed-door briefing that the news reports were incorrect, that Moussaoui "wanted to learn how to take off and land, but not fly."

This is not the first time the government has been caught in these kind of lies. In December U.S. military planes dropped leaflets with doctored pictures of Osama bin Laden in Western dress over Af- ghanistan in an effort to demoralize Taliban fighters. The State Department also published a major newspaper ad that openly repeats the lie above, that Moussaoui "wanted to learn to fly but didn't need to take off and land"--but attributes the statement to hijacker Mohammed Atta.

It is possible Moussaoui does have connections to Al Qaeda--or was somehow involved in planning the 9-11 attacks. But the U.S. government has not presented any evidence linking Moussaoui to the 9-11 attacks and has charged him with conspiracy solely based on his association with an organization . In other words, the U.S. government is trying to hold him responsible for crimes allegedly committed by other members of an organization that they say Moussaoui had ties to. Never before has the government sought the death penalty in a federal case against someone who was not directly tied to an actual murder.

If the government gets away with their plans to execute Zacarias Moussaoui, a dangerous legal precedent will be set in which someone can be convicted and given the death penalty -- solely because they had some association with an organization which had members who carried out capital crimes. Such a legal precedent would give the government tremendous powers to go after all kinds of political organizations and individuals.

After 9-11 the U.S. Justice Department announced that they would begin taping conversations between attorneys and clients in "terrorist" cases. And in another dangerous legal precedent the U.S. government recently indicted attorney Lynne Stewart, whose client Omar Abdel Rahman was convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Stewart is accused of giving "material support" to "terrorists" because of conversations she had with her client. This was the first time the Justice Department invoked its power to monitor communications between attorneys and imprisoned clients without a warrant.

The bourgeois media, while spreading disinformation about Moussaoui, has also promoted the government's view that "a terrorist is anyone we say is a terrorist." In the press, Moussaoui has been dubbed an "Al Qaeda operative" and basically treated as "guilty until proven innocent." And the fact that Moussaoui has maintained he is innocent of the charges, refused to stand for the judge or "cooperate" with the government have all been used to argue that he's guilty and to justify the government seeking a death sentence.

Government officials wanted to try Zacarias Moussaoui in a secret military tribunal, but decided to go with a jury trial--at least in part because there has been much opposition from attorneys, civil liberties groups, human rights organizations and others to such use of military tribunals. Now the government is doing everything possible to ensure a guilty verdict against Moussaoui. Since it decided to seek the death penalty, the jury has to be " death qualified "--anyone who opposes the death penalty is automatically excluded.

The trial was moved from New York to Virginia. Jurors in New York are reluctant to impose a death sentence, while Virginia has the largest number of successful death penalty prosecutions--second only to Texas. The trial will be held just two miles from the Pentagon. The judge denied a Court TV motion to televise the trial and a defense motion to move it to a different venue. We've seen this tactic before, most recently with the case of the four NYPD cops who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times. After moving the case to Albany, prosecutors were able to get a jury to acquit the cold-blooded cops who murdered Amadou Diallo.

The government has vast resources for its case against Moussaoui--who has three court-appointed attorneys. Moussaoui's lawyers requested the trial be held in January 2003 to give them time to prepare. They argued the indictment involves events in many countries, contacting foreign witnesses, the need for Arabic translation and other complex preparations. Attorney Gerald Zerkin told the court, "We simply cannot prepare a case in that amount of time." But the judge ordered the trial to begin this October--just a month after the first year anniversary of the September 11 attacks. When the defense protested that jurors might be prejudiced by the massive amount of publicity around the anniversary of September 11, the judge overruled their concerns.

Our Grief is Not a Cry for War or Revenge

"This will be the first time prosecutors seek the federal death penalty on the basis of conspiracy charges alone... A concerted effort to elicit and capitalize upon feelings of pain, suffering and vengeance on the part of the Justice Department is both disturbing and shocking."

Excerpt from an editorial in The Michigan Daily, 4/1/02

Ashcroft called the indictment against Moussaoui "an important step in securing justice for the victims of September 11." In order to justify seeking the death penalty against someone who can't even be connected with murder, the government cited as an aggravating circumstance "the impact of the crime on thousands of victims" and said the death penalty was necessary to ensure "that the rights of the victims are fully protected." This has nothing to do with getting justice--and everything to do with the government playing on people's fear and grief to establish new levels of repressive measures.

Attorney David Baugh, former president of the Virginia Defense Lawyers Association, said in an interview: "The greatest attack on our liberty is not coming from Osama bin Laden. It's coming from our own government.... Secretive military tribunals, racial and ethnic profiling, special permission to tap phone conversations between suspected terrorists and their attorneys--all degrade our freedoms and the principles of American life."

The government attempt to convict and execute Zacarias Moussaoui on conspiracy charges is an attempt to set a dangerous precedent and must be exposed and opposed.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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