A federal appeals court has dismissed an appeal by federal prosecutors who want to deny accused September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui the right to question a senior al-Qaida operative in U.S. custody. The closely watched case could have far reaching implications for how the government deals with accused terrorists.
The decision leaves in place a lower-court ruling allowing the only person charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks the right to question al-Qaida operative Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Lawyers for Zacarias Moussaoui had convinced the court doing so would bolster his claim that he had nothing to do with the attacks on the United States.
But the Justice Department later appealed, saying that allowing the Moussaoui defense access to an accused fellow terrorist would cause irreparable damage to national security and disrupt the military's war on terror.
The federal appeals court ruled that it has no authority to intervene until the government actually attempts to block the Moussaoui defense from acting.
Legal analysts say if the court allows Zacarias Moussaoui's defense to question an al-Qaida operative, the government would almost certainly remove the French Moroccan from the criminal justice system and declare him an enemy combatant who could face trial before a military tribunal. It did just that earlier this week with a Qatari man charged with making false statements in connection with the 9-11 attacks.