Judge bars Moussaoui from courtroom during jury selection at upcoming death-penalty trial

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A federal judge ruled Tuesday that confessed al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui will not be in the courtroom for jury selection at his upcoming death-penalty trial, after Moussaoui again defied the judge at a pretrial hearing.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said her reason for holding Tuesday's hearing was to determine "how Mr. Moussaoui plans to behave ... whether you plan to remain quiet ... or whether you plan to make speeches."

The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, who pleaded guilty last April to conspiring with al-Qaida to use aircraft to target U.S. buildings, then walked to the lectern and pulled out what appeared to be a handwritten speech. "You have been trying to organize my death for four years," Moussaoui told the judge.

He launched into yet another effort to disavow his court-appointed lawyers and in the process offered diatribes against President Bush and the French people.

At various points in a rambling speech, he called Bush "a crusader" who was "launching a new campaign of revenge against terrorists."

Despite his French citizenship, he said in heavily French-accented English: "I'm not French .... I stand here as a Muslim only. I do not stand here with a nation of homosexual crusaders."

As Brinkema repeatedly tried to quiet him, Moussaoui complained that for four years she had denied him an opportunity to explain his objections to the defense lawyers. "Today is my day," he plunged on. "If I can't make sure that those people are not going to represent me I know that I am dead."

He then referred to his three attorneys as a "federal lawyer," a "KKK" (Ku Klux Klan) and a "geisha."

Brinkema sternly broke in: "I'm not going to permit you to use a federal courtroom to malign your lawyers."

Without raising his voice, Moussaoui responded, "You own everything -- the defense, the judge, the attack (prosecutors). I am al-Qaida. I am your sworn enemy."

To which Brinkema responded: "Mr. Moussaoui, you are the biggest enemy of yourself."

She asked again if he would remain quiet or leave. "I'm going to leave," he responded. He gathered his papers, leaving his text behind. "This is for you."

"God curse you and America," Moussaoui said as he left the courtroom. He was wearing a white knit cap and a green prison jumpsuit with "prisoner" in white block letters on the back.

Brinkema ruled that Moussaoui had forfeited his right to be present and will have to watch jury selection on closed circuit television from his cell at the courthouse.

Moussaoui was tossed out of court four times when jury selection began on Feb. 6 for outbursts in which he disavowed his court-appointed lawyers, proclaimed loyalty to al-Qaida, derided the trial as a circus and promised to testify truthfully about his role.

Lawyers will begin individual questioning of jurors on Wednesday, and opening statements are scheduled for March 6. The trial, expected to last one to three months, will determine what sentence Moussaoui receives: death or life in prison.

Moussaoui claims he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist plot but rather was training to fly a 747 jetliner into the White House later if the U.S. did not release an imprisoned radical Egyptian cleric. But he concealed that from federal agents who arrested him in Minnesota less than four weeks before 9/11.

Prosecutors will argue that federal agents could have prevented the attacks if Moussaoui had been truthful about his al-Qaida connections after his Aug. 16, 2001, arrest. To obtain the death penalty, the judge has said, the prosecutors must show that Moussaoui's lies were directly responsible for deaths in Sept. 11 attacks.

Defense lawyers argue that Moussaoui knew less about 9/11 beforehand than the government, and therefore had no knowledge that would have helped the FBI or any other government agency prevent the attacks.

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