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Us born citizens held without lawyer

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Some U.S.-born captives are detained in the United States as enemy combatants without access to lawyers, including: Yasser Esam Hamdi, an American captured in Afghanistan, and Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member who is accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb.

Uncertainty Shrouds Terror Prosecutions
Two Years After Terrorist Attacks, Future of Moussaoui, Other Captives' Cases Uncertain

The Associated Press

Zacarias Moussaoui has been called the 20th hijacker, a pilot-in-training for an attack on the White House and a bumbler who couldn't be trusted by al-Qaida to fly a paper airplane.

Two years on, the public knows little about al-Qaida's assignment for the only man indicted in the United States as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The government's broader strategy in the legal war against terrorism also is shrouded in uncertainty. Some captives are labeled enemy combatants, detained without access to lawyers. Others, all foreign born, are awaiting trials by military tribunals if President Bush certifies they meet certain conditions.

Moussaoui, 35, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, is among those being prosecuted in civilian courts although his case could be moved to a tribunal.

The case, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., is on indefinite hold while judges decide a precedent-setting issue: whether accused terrorists have the right to question al-Qaida captives undergoing interrogation in secret overseas locations.

"It seems the administration has no clear strategy of the role of the criminal justice system within this war on terrorism," said former Justice Department legal adviser Juliette Kayyem, a senior fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Conversely, Kayyem said, the government's intentions toward Moussaoui are clear.

"They want him dead."

The government long ago informed U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema that it would seek the death penalty if Moussaoui was convicted of conspiring to commit terrorism and hijack airliners. He is charged as part of a broad conspiracy beyond the Sept. 11 attacks.

Moussaoui, who was arrested in Minnesota a month before the attacks, continues to contend that the judge, the prosecutors and his court-appointed lawyers are trying to kill him.

"It is clear that the death judge is looking for an excuse to kill the 20th hijacker," Moussaoui said in a motion last month, one of hundreds of handwritten filings that mix legal arguments with diatribes against prosecutors, defense lawyers, the judge and the United States.

When Moussaoui describes himself as the "20th hijacker" or a "fifth pilot," he does so in a mocking tone. He has denied any involvement in the attacks while acknowledging his loyalty to Osama bin Laden.

The government has referred to Moussaoui's role in different ways.

In January 2002, a month after Moussaoui was indicted, Attorney General John Ashcroft said he "may well have sought to be the 20th hijacker on the fourth plane." However, after interrogations of al-Qaida prisoners, prosecutors said he had been planning to fly a fifth plane into the White House. They did not specify when that attack was to occur.

A much different characterization came from Moussaoui's court-appointed defense team, which represents his interests while he serves as his own lawyer.

"Mr. Moussaoui couldn't even fly a paper airplane," lawyer Edward MacMahon said. "He was the worst pilot. ... He couldn't get a Cessna up off the ground."

Moussaoui scored a major victory when Brinkema ruled he should be able to question three al-Qaida captives via satellite hookup. She said defense lawyers convinced her the prisoners could testify that Moussaoui was not part of the Sept. 11 conspiracy.

The government already has defied one Brinkema order to produce a witness for Moussaoui, and some experts believe the Bush administration would move the case to a military tribunal if forced to interrupt al-Qaida interrogations.

"They're the most important source of human intelligence on ongoing al-Qaida activities," said Ruth Wedgwood, a former Justice Department official and current professor of international law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University.

"You don't want them saying, 'Hi Moussaoui, how are you doing?' You don't want a cheering squad, you don't want people bucking each other up."

Military tribunals are reserved for foreign-born captives. But Bush must first certify one of three conditions exist: that there is reason to believe a captive belonged to al-Qaida; that he engaged in, aided or abetted acts of terrorism against the United States, or he knowingly harbored an individual in the above categories.

Further, Bush would have to declare a military trial would be in the interest of the United States. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has been designated to make that final decision.

The Defense Department has decided military trials would be public, except when national security matters were discussed.

Some U.S.-born captives are detained in the United States as enemy combatants without access to lawyers, including: Yasser Esam Hamdi, an American captured in Afghanistan, and Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member who is accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb.

Others caught in the war on terrorism, besides Moussaoui, have been prosecuted in civilian courts, including Richard Reid, a British citizen who pleaded guilty to trying to ignite plastic explosives on a flight to the United States and U.S.-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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