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What the Moussaoui Circus Portends for the KSM Trial


The court also informed Moussaoui that Randall Hamud, a Muslim attorney hired by Moussaoui’s mother, was in the courtroom, but Moussaoui refused to meet with him.

Things continued to proceed oddly. On July 18, Moussaoui offered a plea of guilty. The court explained the consequences of doing so and gave him a week to think it over. Appointed counsel asked for another competency examination.

Moussaoui again expressed his belief that the jury might find him more credible and decline to impose the death penalty if he pled guilty. However, Moussaoui was ultimately unwilling to admit to the facts necessary to support a guilty plea to the charged conspiracies and withdrew his request.

There were several interlocutory appeals of various rulings:

During the pendency of [an early] appeal, the district court revoked Moussaoui’s right to proceed pro se. Since October 2003, the district court had received over twenty filings from Moussaoui, "most of which [were] not proper requests for appropriate judicial relief." These filings "[included] veiled, and in some cases overt, threats to public officials, attacks on foreign governments, attempts to communicate with persons overseas, and efforts to obtain materials unrelated to this case." ... After the district court specifically warned Moussaoui that he might lose his right to continue pro se if he continued this course, Moussaoui filed two additional improper pleadings, and the district court revoked Moussaoui’s pro se status. ... Moussaoui would later testify that his writings were intentionally designed to promote his agenda of disseminating propaganda about al-Qaeda’s war against the United States.

Eventually, on March 29, 2005, after the Supreme Court had denied certiorari in one of the interlocutory appeals, Moussaoui advised the district court that he wanted to enter an unconditional plea of guilty to all charges. The court explained the consequences of doing so and, following exploration of his understanding of the nature of the plea and its consequences, accepted the guilty plea on April 22. A fascinating and detailed statement of facts was prepared and placed in the record. (It is summarized on pages 15-18 of the Fourth Circuit opinion.)

The court then proceeded to a bifurcated sentencing proceeding, the first phase of which required a determination of whether the death penalty might be appropriate, and the second phase of which required a determination of whether, if appropriate, it should be imposed. (Facts elicited during phase I are recited at pages 19-21 of the Fourth Circuit opinion.) Among the revelations is that statements from KSM himself were received during the phase I proceeding:

According to KSM, Bin Laden first pursued the idea of the planes operation in 1998. KSM stated that the planes operation included plans for a first and second wave of attacks and that "the original plan called for Moussaoui to lead the [second] attack operation in the [United States]." ... The first wave of attacks was to be carried out by Arab al-Qaeda associates on the East Coast. The second wave of attacks was to be carried out by non-Arab associates (such as Moussaoui) on the West Coast because KSM believed the non-Arabs would still be able to operate in the heightened security expected after the first wave.

At the conclusion of the phase I proceeding, the jury found Moussaoui eligible for the death penalty; then the phase II proceeding began. Moussaoui elected to testify and claimed that he should not be executed because (a) life in prison would be worse punishment and (b) he might be useful as a bargaining chip in an exchange for someone captured by al-Qaeda. He also addressed:

... the passionate and offensive documents that he had filed during the course of his prosecution, including pleadings asserting that the district court judge was trying to kill him, referring to them as "psychological warfare [propaganda]." ... Moussaoui explained to the jury that "when I saw something that I [believed] I could exploit or I could [use to] psychologically damage you, whatever, by propaganda, I will do it." ... Moussaoui also admitted that he told his psychologist that his pro se pleadings were being published and that "Muslim people around the world have ... been made happy or have been motivated by them."

The jury eventually imposed life in prison without possibility of parole.

Then Moussaoui sought to retract his guilty plea:

... claiming that his "understanding of the American legal system was completely flawed" and asking for a new trial "[because] I now see that it is possible that I can receive a fair trial ... even with Americans as jurors and that I can have the opportunity to prove that I did not have any knowledge of and was not a member of the plot to hijack planes and crash them into buildings on September 11, 2001." ... In other words, Moussaoui sought to withdraw his guilty plea (and contradict the sworn testimony he had just given) because he had been successful in the penalty phase proceedings.