Prosecutor: Moussaoui Did His Part for 9/11
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer Mon Mar 6, 2006
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Opening its argument for executing al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the government said Monday he "lied so that murders could follow" on Sept. 11, 2001.
But the defense portrayed Moussaoui as a buffoon isolated even by al-Qaida and urged jurors to deny him the martyrdom of a death sentence.
In a heavily guarded courthouse just miles from the
Pentagon, where some of the 2,972 victims of Sept. 11 died, prosecutor Rob Spencer opened his case by telling the jury that "even though he was in jail on Sept. 11, he did his part as a loyal al-Qaida soldier."
"Had he not lied to agents in 2001, the U.S. government would have stopped those deaths, or at least some of them," Spencer asserted.
Court-appointed defense attorney Edward MacMahon scoffed at that idea. He termed Moussaoui’s dreams of being a terrorist "sound and fury signifying nothing."
Considered a headache and even called "cuckoo in the head" by one al-Qaida leader, Moussaoui "was intentionally isolated from the real hijackers in the United States," MacMahon argued. "Nothing Moussaoui did or said ? even a lie ? caused anyone to die that day."
Now Moussaoui yearns for martyrdom, MacMahon asserted. "The only way he can appear as a smiling face on an al-Qaida recruiting poster is by your verdict," MacMahon told jurors. "Please don’t make him a hero. He doesn’t deserve it."
The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, who faces either execution or life in prison without release, stroked his beard and intently studied the faces of jurors and the audience during opening statements.
Empaneled hours earlier, 10 men and seven women listened from the jury box. Across the hall, watching on closed circuit TV, Moussaoui’s mother, Aicha, wept quietly when he entered court. One floor above, families of the Sept. 11 victims also watched on TV. Outside, snipers clad in black fatigues guarded the building.
Wearing a green prison jumpsuit and a white knit cap, Moussaoui remained quiet during proceedings, but as he left for a recess he told the lawyers, "All your stories, all your American creations have nothing to do with me."
Prosecutor Spencer said Moussaoui, the only man charged in this country in the Sept. 11 plot, should be held responsible for not stopping it after the
FBI arrested him Aug. 16, 2001, while he was training in Eagan, Minn., to fly jetliners.
Moussaoui, Spencer said, was such an inexperienced pilot that the FBI suspected he might be a terrorist, but Moussaoui told them he was a tourist pursing a dream. That lie made him responsible for the deaths "as surely as if he had been at the controls of one of the planes" that al-Qaida hijacked and flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, the prosecutor said.
If Moussaoui had told the FBI the same plot details he described last April when he pleaded guilty to six conspiracy counts, that would have been "all the government needed to know to stop 9/11," Spencer said.
Moussaoui himself says he conspired with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings but he wasn’t part of the Sept. 11 planning. Instead, he says, he was training instead to fly into the White House as part of a possible later attack.
If Moussaoui had come clean in 2001, Spencer said, the FBI would have been able to use his records to locate 11 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, including all four pilots. He also said the government would have keep those conspirators off airplanes and would have altered airport screeners to confiscate small knives and boxcutters.
MacMahon argued that Moussaoui knew less about the Sept. 11 plot than the government did. The inept government handling of the intelligence it had, he said, shows it would never have mounted the flawless probe Spencer described. "What the government wants you to believe is only a dream."
MacMahon said the U.S. government was told in 1995 that al-Qaida terrorists in the Philippines who had participated in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center were discussing hijacking a commercial jet and flying it into
CIA headquarters, but they never changed their aviation security to prevent that.
He pointed out that the government knew two of the hijackers were in the United States for months before Sept. 11 and never put them on a no-fly list.
"Nothing they were told by some Muslim loner in Minnesota would have changed that" response by the government, MacMahon said.
He said the Sept. 11 hijackers traveled in teams and trained together, but Moussaoui traveled alone, didn’t train with them and was never in the presence of a real hijacker.
He played videotapes of then-Attorney General
John Ashcroft describing how the FBI and CIA didn’t share information before the attacks, and of Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice saying any way to prevent Sept. 11 would have had to have been in place years earlier.
The 17 jurors included a high school math teacher who has traveled widely in the Middle East, a Navy veteran of the first
Gulf War and an Iranian-born Sunni Muslim woman. The judge will later designate five as alternates.
The final group included only two of 21 prospective jurors who had some connection to the Sept. 11 attacks or victims.
One was a woman whose brother-in-law works for the New York City Police Department and helped with rescue at the World Trade Center. The math teacher had a more remote connection: The fathers of two of her pupils are firefighters who responded to the crash at the Pentagon. She helped freshmen make a quilt to give to the fire department.
One woman who was seated said earlier that she would tend to assume an al-Qaida member is evil. Jurors also included a mental health researcher, a man whose father retired from the CIA just before Sept. 11, a man who serves in the military reserves and a federal government employee who said he thought there was a lack of communication between the FBI and CIA before the attacks.
Outside the courthouse, D. Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, Md., who lost his father, Donald, and stepmother, Jean, on the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, declared, "I want accountability."
"I believe Moussaoui is an excellent candidate for the death penalty," he said outside the courtroom. "He is nothing less than a mass murderer."
Associated Press reporters Matthew Barakat and Pete Yost contributed to this story.