In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
-- 6th Amendment to the Bill of Rights
Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested before 9-11 when his suspicious behavior at a flight-training school drew the attention of FBI agents in Minneapolis. He has been in solitary confinement ever since. He has never denied his connection to the 9-11 conspirators, only that he was not personally involved in the Sept attacks. It was John Ashcroft who decided that Moussaoui (who is not an American citizen) should be provided with all the protections afforded to an American citizen. He foolishly believed that the case would be a “slam-dunk” and would demonstrate the munificence of American jurisprudence.
It hasn’t turned out that way, and the Justice Dept has had to compensate for its own incompetence by battering the Constitution at every turn. For one thing, it’s doubtful that keeping a suspect in solitary confinement without bail for four years meets the 6th Amendment’s requirement that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.” In reality, Moussaoui’s incarceration probably violates the 8th Amendment’s directive against “cruel and unusual punishment”. At the very least, it makes a travesty of our purported commitment to due process.
Moussaoui maintains that terror suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustapha al-Hawsawi can provide testimony that will exonerate him of involvement in 9-11. The government has steadfastly refused Moussaoui’s request saying that producing the witnesses would endanger National security. Obviously, video testimony of the three witnesses could have been provided without any danger to national security by deleting questionable sections of the tape. Presiding Judge Lonnie Brinkema has consistently ruled that Moussaoui must have some access to the witnesses or the charges against him must be mitigated by way of compensation. The DOJ, however, has rejected Brinkema’s compromise and continues to press for the death penalty. They have offered to provide written testimony from the 3 suspects (entirely supervised by the state) that they claim will satisfy Moussaoui’s 6th Amendment rights.
Think of how absurd this is? The prosecution is asking to oversee the testimony for the defense, (presumably) omitting whatever they choose. In other words, they are asking to be trusted to honestly prepare the defense’s case. It’s complete lunacy.
The remedy denies Moussaoui of the only chance he has to acquit himself of the charges against him, which reduces the trial to nothing more than a sham.
The refusal of the Supreme Court to hear the Moussaoui case shows that they believe that the death penalty is appropriate EVEN when citizens have been deprived of basic rights.
How can any court seek the death penalty when the accused is refused witnesses for the defense?
What other defense is there? It defeats the very purpose of having a trail at all. If this is how the Bush-state (with the implicit support of the Supreme Court) chooses to interpret the Constitution, we’d be better off tossing the Bill of Rights on the burn-pile and summoning a firing squad straightaway.
The Moussaoui case is a window into the increasingly tyrannical workings of the state, that’s why it’s buried on page 14a next to the Wal-Mart ad. For those who follow these cases, the pattern is clear and troubling. Personal liberty is being stomped out by a right-wing Supreme Court determined to undermine the “inalienable” rights of the people. With every ruling (or refusal) they continue to enhance the already extraordinary powers of the President.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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