Officials Weigh Military Tribunal for Moussaoui
W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 12 — U.S. officials, concerned that a public trial of accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui might prove embarrassing or hamper anti-terrorism efforts, are weighing the option of dismissing charges and instead trying the Frenchman before a military tribunal.
A senior Defense Department official and sources familiar with the case said Monday that Pentagon and Justice Department officials have been discussing the option of having Moussaoui face a military tribunal instead of standing trial as planned before a jury in federal court in Virginia.
No decision has been made, but talks have been taking place amid concerns over requests made by Moussaoui and his team of stand-by lawyers who are seeking access to evidence and witnesses viewed by the government as sensitive.
One source familiar with the case said the idea of dropping civilian charges had been debated ever since the defense asked for access to some senior al Qaeda members in U.S. custody.
They include Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, known as Binalshibh in the West. Zubaydah and Bin al-Shaibah are believed to be the two most senior al Qaeda members captured since the United States launched a war on terrorism to destroy the network it blames for the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Bin al-Shaibah is named as a co-conspirator in the indictment that charges Moussaoui with six counts of conspiracy — four of which carry the death penalty — in the attacks.
Zubaydah, one of Osama bin Laden's top deputies, and Bin al-Shaibah, are being interrogated outside the United States.
Moussaoui, who was arrested in August 2001 on immigration charges, denied involvement in the hijacked airline attacks but admitted to being a member of al Qaeda.
Moussaoui's trial has been delayed twice and is now due to begin next June.
Moussaoui, who is not an attorney but is acting as his own lawyer, and the court-appointed counsel named to assist him have filed sealed requests to the federal court to get access to Bin al-Shaibah and Zubaydah.
The government, particularly the Defense Department, does not want to permit access and has cited national security concerns in arguing their point.
The Bush administration last year disclosed that it would consider trying terrorism suspects who are not U.S. citizens in military tribunals rather than in civilian courts. Defendants do not enjoy the same rights in military tribunals as afforded to them in civilian courts.
Moussaoui's team has argued that the Frenchman of Moroccan descent would be denied his constitutional rights if he is not permitted access to witnesses who may be able to prove his innocence.
Lawyers familiar with the case say District Judge Leonie Brinkema has the option of requiring the government to produce the evidence or the witnesses.
The government could refuse, and possibly drop the charges and bring Moussaoui before a military tribunal, the lawyers said. Alternatively, if the government refuses, Brinkema could dismiss the case and the government could then find a way to make Moussaoui face charges in a military tribunal, the lawyers added.
"Either way, he's going to face charges," one lawyer said. Lawyers familiar with the case shrugged off the possibility that the government would be wary of a public outcry that could result if authorities brought Moussaoui before a military tribunal.
"Who cares about Moussaoui?" another lawyer said.
The Pentagon and Justice Department have been at odds for a while over how best to handle the case. Defense officials, already angry that some classified documents were mistakenly handed over to Moussaoui a few months ago, do not want sensitive information released at a public trial.
Moussaoui's lawyers said they did not know if the government planned to dismiss civilian charges. Justice Department officials did not answer requests for comment.
Several Justice Department officials, including Michael Chertoff, chief of the department's Criminal Division, have pushed hard to keep Moussaoui in the civilian court system. They won out initially but it was unclear if that would change given the requests made for access to people like Bin al-Shaibah.
U.S. Intelligence Believes Most Al Qaeda Leaders Relocated to Pakistan
W A S H I NG T O N, Nov. 12 — U.S. intelligence believes most of al Qaeda's surviving leaders have relocated to Pakistan, although a few have slipped away to countries in Asia and North Africa, defense and counterterrorism officials say.
Last week's CIA strike on al Qaeda's chief operative in Yemen crossed one "top 20" target off U.S. lists. But several key members of the terror group's leadership remain alive and free, although U.S. officials believe many are laying low in Pakistan to avoid the worldwide dragnet.
Pakistan was the obvious rallying site once U.S. and anti-Taliban forces overran Afghanistan last year: It is easy to reach but difficult to police. Because of concerns that a U.S. military presence would anger the Pakistani populace, U.S. forces cannot operate with the impunity they enjoy in Afghanistan.
But some of al Qaeda's senior operatives have been on the move — presenting a danger and an opportunity, say U.S. counterterrorism officials. As mobile operatives cross borders to meet with cells to plot attacks, they often must pass through airports and security checkpoints, spend money and make phone calls, all of which expose them to potential detection and capture.
In Pakistan, al Qaeda operatives are believed to have gone either to the wild mountainous region along the Afghan border, or to the cities, particularly Karachi.
Osama bin Laden's whereabouts and status remain unknown, although many CIA and military officials say they assume he is alive. Their best bet: He is in the mountains along the border. His recent communications give no clues to their origins, and officials say it is possible they were made some time ago.
Bin Laden's chief deputy, Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahri, spent most of 2002 in limbo, finally re-emerging to speak on an audio tape released last month that referred to recent events. Al-Zawahri is believed to be in Pakistan. Officials won't say if they think he is with bin Laden.
Two al Qaeda operations chiefs are out of the picture: Mohammed Atef, killed in a U.S. airstrike near Kabul a year ago, and Abu Zubaydah, captured in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad in March. Officials have identified seven senior operatives who have been killed since the Sept. 11 attacks, and several more who have been captured.
President Bush spoke Monday of the global effort to catch al Qaeda's leaders.
"Some of the terrorists met their fate in caves and mountains of that country," he said in a Veterans Day speech at the White House. "Others were a little luckier, and they're now in custody answering questions. Yet many trained killers are still scattered amongst 60 nations, and ridding the world of this threat requires a different kind of strategy."
Others have risen to replace those lost, particularly Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, allegedly al Qaeda's Persian Gulf chief and one of two masterminds of the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
Mohammed is still believed to be in Pakistan, a U.S. defense official said Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity. Mohammed's aide, another alleged Sept. 11 plotter named Ramzi Binalshibh, was captured in a raid in Karachi in September.
Al-Nashiri, who was in Afghanistan when the war started, is thought to have escaped to Yemen, which would have required a trip by boat or plane, or a long overland journey through several countries. He is probably the top-ranking al Qaeda operative in Yemen, particularly since the CIA killed chief Yemen operative Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in a missile strike Nov. 3. Two other top al Qaeda operatives have also been on the move, according to officials:
Abu Musab Zarqawi: He fled Afghanistan during the war, going first to Iran, then to Baghdad in Iraq for medical treatment, and then on to Syria, officials said. His presence in Iraq and Iran led to American invective against those nations, although it is unknown whether he had contact with either government. Zarqawi, a Jordanian, was convicted in absentia in connection with a plot to bomb tourist spots in Amman, Jordan, during millennium celebrations.
Abu Zubair al-Haili: This corpulent senior Saudi operative allegedly helped al Qaeda foot soldiers escape from Afghanistan, but he was caught in Morocco in June.
Other key players remain in Pakistan, defense officials say:
Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif: Bin Laden's alleged financial chief and key financier of the Sept. 11 attacks is also known as Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi.
Tawfiq Attash Khallad: A Yemeni missing his right foot, Khallad has been linked to both the USS Cole attack and two Sept. 11 hijackers. A CIA officer once described him as "a major-league killer."
Abu Mohammad al-Masri: U.S. officials have tied al-Masri to the 1993 attacks on U.S. soldiers in Somalia and the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. An Egyptian on the FBI's most wanted list, he is also known as Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah.
Still others are thought to have escaped to nearby countries:
Saif al-Adil: Bin Laden's alleged security chief went from Afghanistan to eastern Iran, defense officials said. He's wanted for his alleged role in the Somalia attacks and the East Africa embassy bombings.
Mohammad Omar Abdel-Rahman: The son of the "blind sheikh" convicted in connection with a plot to bomb New York landmarks in 1994, the younger Abdel-Rahman is thought to have remained in Afghanistan, the officials said.
— The Associated Press
U.S. Army Reservist Starts Terror Prevention Training Company
Y O R K, Pa., Nov. 12 — Looking to help groups protect themselves against a potential terrorist attack, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves has started a company to help businesses and other groups assess their weaknesses.
David C. Ruff started WMD Consulting Group in Spring Garden Township in September. Although no group has officially retained his company's services yet, Ruff said he plans to help evaluate groups and train them how to prepare.
"Many companies have not had to deal with this kind of thing, so they are not prepared for it," Ruff said. Places such as public utilities, schools and churches are also prime targets, he said.
Ruff also has knowledge of explosives, as a commander of the 45th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment.
He said hospitals could be better protected if they put concrete barriers around buildings; and retail establishments might want to train employees how to get out of a store in the event of a bomb threat, he said.
He said he also often recommends hiring guards or installing alarm systems.
"It all comes down to money and what a company is willing to spend," Ruff said. "My job is just to give the overview of the threat."
— The Associated Press