Moussaoui lawyers claim Government lawyers doctored al-Qaida statements

Thursday, June 5th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Prosecutors doctored interrogation statements from an al-Qaida leader and submitted them to a court after mixing, matching and reorganizing the material, lawyers for terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui contend.

Moussaoui's trial judge rejected the submission as a proposed substitute for a court-approved interview of the captive leader by Moussaoui. The lawyers called the submission a concocted script that patched together separate statements from suspected Sept. 11 coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh.

"To make the substitute flow the government added in its own transitional phrasing," according to the written brief filed last month and kept secret until released in an edited form Wednesday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Moussaoui does not cooperate with his court-appointed defense team, which remains in the case even though the lone U.S. defendant from the Sept. 11 attacks is representing himself before the trial court.

A Justice Department filing, not yet made public, "refutes the defense's argument," spokesman Mark Corallo said.

The government submitted its proposed substitute to U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., as an alternative to the interview she authorized through a closed TV hookup.

Brinkema granted the deposition after Moussaoui and his court-appointed lawyers convinced the court that Binalshibh might back up Moussaoui's contention that he was not a conspirator with the Sept. 11 hijackers, as charged in the death penalty case.

The interview was placed on hold when the government took the controversy to the appeals court in Richmond, where oral arguments were conducted Tuesday, partly in open session and partly in secret.

The government's material consisted of summaries of Binalshibh's statements to interrogators. Prosecutors "mixed, matched, integrated and chronologically reorganized (the statements) into one seamless script, or story line," lawyers for Moussaoui contended.

The government contends that allowing Moussaoui to interview Binalshibh would cause irreparable harm to national security by interfering with his interrogation in the war against terrorism.

The defense lawyers said the government summaries were "riddled with information ... that the defense would not even seek to use" if the appeals court blocked the Binalshibh interview.

They called the government summaries "concocted" and said the submissions included prosecutors' "opinions, inferences and assumptions" that were added to statements that would help the defense.

Citing an example, the lawyers quoted a statement where Binalshibh allegedly said that Osama "bin Laden must have selected Moussaoui" for the Sept. 11 operation. The defense has had no opportunity to question the witness on such information, the lawyers argued.

The statements "cannot be characterized as an accurate or complete reflection of exactly what he (Binalshibh) would say" in a deposition that might be played at trial, the lawyers said.

The defense team also complained that "nothing in the substitution indicates that it was written by the government. The effect of all this would be to mislead the jury. This is because the substitute, as scripted by the government, falsely appears to be a single statement that was voluntarily obtained in a neutral setting at one time."

The pleading said the material appeared to be sponsored by the defense and gave the impression of being a start-to-finish rendition of Binalshibh's comments about Moussaoui's knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The substitute does not tell the jury...that the defense has had no access to him," the lawyers said.