A “Wowie” Of An AP Gaffe on Moussaoui

Sarah Palin’s expert fact-checking service gives us a real doozy today (here)…

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Zacarias Moussaoui was a clown who could not keep his mouth shut, according to his old al-Qaida boss, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But Moussaoui was surprisingly tame when tried for the 9/11 attacks — never turning the courtroom into the circus of anti-U.S. tirades that some fear Mohammed will create at his trial in New York.

And that wasn’t the only surprise during Moussaoui’s six-week 2006 sentencing trial here — a proceeding that might foreshadow how the upcoming 9/11 trial in New York will go.

Really? This tells us the following (from the conclusion of Moussaoui’s trial in May 2006)…

The twelve anonymous jurors who sentenced Zacarias Moussaoui to life in prison Wednesday showed that it is possible to reconcile prosecution of terror with the rule of law. Three of the jurors went to the trouble of writing into their report that Moussaoui, despite his fealty to Al Qaeda, had but “limited knowledge” of the September 11 conspiracy. Nine of them agreed that the extraordinary violence of his childhood weighed against a death sentence. Ordinary citizens, in the shadow of a unique and heinous crime, were still capable of telling the difference between justice and blood vengeance.

For defense lawyers Moussaoui was the client from hell, for four years alternatively denouncing the court and his legal team and demanding his own execution. Yet even Moussaoui’s raving could not disguise the fundamental flaw of the government’s execution demand, which defense lawyers emphasized so tirelessly even against the wishes of their megalomanic client: Whatever his malignant intent, Moussaoui was in jail on 9/11, and even before that was peripheral to the plot.

Some jurors clearly understood that the Ashcroft-Gonzales Justice Department’s decision to press for the death penalty against Moussaoui turned a legitimate criminal prosecution into a show trial. Five years and tens of million dollars in prosecution costs were exhausted to make sure that someone would get the needle for September 11– never mind if he was only marginally culpable.

On one level, the Moussaoui trial has been so exceptional in every way that it would be misleading to read into it too many broader implications. Yet if you strip away the extraordinary circumstances represented by 9/11 and the extraordinary challenge represented by Moussaoui himself, there was much in this trial in common with standard capital trials: an emotional but factually sloppy case for execution; a volatile defendant with a family history of mental illness and extreme violence; survivor families divided by the prospect of a death sentence.

And commenting on the events preceding the trial, Dahlia Lithwick of Slate told us the following in March 2003 (before Iraq War II started – hard to remember such a time existed, but it did)…

The Moussaoui trial, a shambles almost from the first bang of the gavel, is on indefinite hold, postponed for the third time now, pending a Justice Department appeal of a ruling by the trial judge. Part of the problem is that in the year and a half since the war on terror began, the Bush administration has been unable to determine how it wants to treat captured terrorists. Legal analysts have struggled to discern a pattern in the government’s inconsistent treatment of suspects, and finally one has begun to emerge: The truly dangerous criminal masterminds are interrogated indefinitely, the insignificant bumblers are tried as dangerous criminal masterminds, and the rest are left to rot in military jails. It’s an interesting approach, but one can hardly call it justice.

And as ABC News told us here in 2007…

An apparent breakdown in communication at the CIA caused its analysts to submit inaccurate declarations in the case against convicted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, keeping taped interviews with enemy combatants from being reviewed in the case.

That admission came in the form of a highly redacted letter, classified Top Secret, sent from the federal prosecutors to the trial and appeals judges on the case.

The prosecutors noted that a CIA attorney informed them in September that the agency found one tape pertaining to the case, and after the prosecutors requested a more extensive review, the CIA found an additional video tape and one audio tape.

“The fact that audio/video recording of enemy combatant interrogations occurred, and that the United States was in possession of three of those recordings is, as noted, inconsistent with factual assertions in CIA declarations,” the letter noted.

The CIA had submitted declarations from 2003 to the court, stating that no recordings of interrogations existed. “The existence of the video tape however is at odds with statements in two CIA declarations submitted in this case,” the letter states.

Still, though, a trial in Federal court is the way to go against KSM and the other defendants; as Jonathan Alter of Newsweek noted here on Monday, “this will bring a faster conviction than in the military tribunals because the tribunals are uncharted waters. There’s much more room for appeal. Remember, after tribunal, there’s an appeal up to the Supreme Court and those appeals will take longer than the appeals in this case.”

And as Alter also told us, if Rudy 9iu11ani were still a prosecutor instead of a politician, he would be chomping at the proverbial bit to try the suspects in question instead of fear-mongering about why they should be locked up forever without having their day in court (and does it really need to be pointed out that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports having the trials in NYC?).

So all that remains is for our intelligence services and our system of justice to work in concert and bring convictions against the alleged 9/11 plotters. And since we now have grownups in charge who are interested in recognizing the rule of law here, as opposed to incompetent grandstanders interested only in political outcomes, I feel much better about our prospects.

Update 11/19/09: In response to this, I have a question for Rudy! – how do you feel about using the words “stupid” and “demagogue” in the same sentence, then?

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