Appeals Court Hears Argument in Moussaoui's Bid to Withdraw Guilty Plea

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held oral argument Monday in the appeal of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is trying to withdraw his guilty plea.

The grounds:

Moussaoui's guilty plea was invalid because he was confused about the charges and didn't know that other al-Qaeda members had given information to interrogators that could have cleared him.


The WaPo reporter was unimpressed with the arguments which he calls "dry" and says the chief judge's response was "skeptical."

She pointed out that he testified in open court that al-Qaeda had instructed him to fly a fifth hijacked plane into the White House.

"Isn't it a little disingenuous for you to claim that there was no factual basis for the plea?" asked Williams, part of a three-judge panel that will decide the appeal.

How is that disingenous? Moussaoui maintained from the beginning he was not a part of the 9/11 attacks. He was in jail when they happened. He admitted to being part of al Qaeda and a plan to fly into the White House that was to occur at some unspecified time in the future, not on 9/11. (See here, and the statement of facts he admitted to when he pleaded guilty. And here's the transcript of his 2002 hearing the first time he tried to plead guilty and the judge refused to allow it.)

Moussaoui is in Supermax in Colorado. He was not in court, but a mother of a 9/11 victim was:

Phyllis Rodriguez, whose son, Gregory, died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said she attended the hearing because she felt that Moussaoui might not have gotten a fair trial and because there was no evidence that he was involved in the attacks. "In honor of my son and in his name, I would like to trust justice to be done,'' she said, "not something to feed the anger and vengeance of the public."

Osama bin Laden himself released a tape saying Moussaoui wasn't part of 9/11. They would never have trusted him with such a mission...he was just learning how to fly. So did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

As I wrote in an earlier post linked above, this case has been like a game of What's My Line? Meet Zacarias Moussoui. Is he:

  • The 20th Hijacker
  • The Fifth Pilot
  • A financial drop for Ramzi Binalshibh,
  • A Manipulative Defendant or
  • A Mentally Unbalanced Defendant?

One thing the Government never established was his participation in 9/11, and that's the crime for which he's serving a life sentence. (The jury rejected the death penalty. Here's an account of the defense closing argument.)

It's unlikely Moussaoui will prevail. However, it should be noted he is a bumbling holy warrior serving life not for being a part of the 9/11 attacks, but for being a member of al Qaida, belligerent, stubborn, foolish and wanting to be a martyr.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Futile (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 11:07:54 AM EST
    He'll be in jail the rest of his life, bank on it.  Right or wrong, this train left the station long ago.  

    At the very least. . . (none / 0) (#2)
    by LarryInNYC on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 11:10:40 AM EST
    he's making a play to spend the rest of his life in court.

    i'm just cynical (none / 0) (#6)
    by Dadler on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 05:01:27 PM EST
    but you are right.  

    confused about plea? (none / 0) (#3)
    by blogname on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 11:41:53 AM EST
    I am not sure I buy that one as a grounds to reverse -- but the feds not giving exculpatory evidence: sure.

    How bad? (none / 0) (#4)
    by bocajeff on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:47:35 PM EST
    How bad is the defense attorney if his/her client is confused about the plea? It's not like he was at Baskin Robbins and looking at 31 different types of pleas.

    Also, I don't think having Osama Bin Ladin as a witness on your behalf does him any good. But I could be wrong.

    why the defense attorney? (none / 0) (#5)
    by txpublicdefender on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 04:35:37 PM EST
    Moussaoui's defense attorneys did everything they could to prevent him from pleading, and repeatedly objected to his being allowed to do so.  Please don't blame the defense attorneys.  He had some of the best in the country, which is evidenced by the fact that they were able to convince a jury to spare him the death penalty even though he essentially pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit 9/11.

    just throwing grenades (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 06:56:09 PM EST
    All this guy is doing is wasting everyone's time and money and playing with us by first pleading guilty, then innocent when he didn't get a death sentence.  Just ignore him.

    We Need To Know The Truth (none / 0) (#9)
    by john horse on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 08:28:39 PM EST
    Diogenes, we just can't ignore him.  Moussaoui was tried during a period of post 9/11 hysteria by an administration that played hard and fast with both the rules and with the truth.

    With the passage of time (and the passage of the Bush administration) we can now start looking at these cases more objectively.  

    We need to make sure we get it right not for Moussaoui's sake but for ours.


    objectively speaking... (none / 0) (#13)
    by diogenes on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 11:18:34 AM EST
    Objectively speaking, when you plead guilty then that plea stays unless you meet stringent legal standards, and this appeal is about that and not about the "truth" of this man's guilt.

    Of course, torturing people does not (none / 0) (#8)
    by No Blood for Hubris on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 07:51:50 PM EST
    generally result in utterly scrambling their brains, rendering them unfit to stand trial. Oh wait. Yuh, sure it does.

    Well, maybe he was one of the Not-Tortureds?

    (But -- were there any?)

    It sounds like (none / 0) (#11)
    by weltec2 on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 06:06:54 AM EST
    he belongs in an institution for the criminally insane not clogging up our max security prison system which is overcrowded enough as it is.

    Well then, if Osama bin Laden vouched for him... (none / 0) (#12)
    by MyLeftMind on Wed Jan 28, 2009 at 10:21:12 AM EST
    Moussaoui's attorneys are invested in keeping him in court for the rest of his life, and the public is not well served by paying for it.  Given the verdict in the Salim Hamdan case at Guantánamo, we'd be better off to simply charge him with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit terrorism, preparing acts of terrorism and material support for terrorism.  How many counts can you get for five airplanes full of people?  That should keep him in jail the rest of his life whether or not he was physically involved in the actual 9/11 attack.

    What we need is the successful prosecution of a potential terrorist who was clearly a part of al-Qaeda, even if he wasn't included in the execution of a specific terrorist act.  Moussaoui's not mentally unbalanced, he's just a religious fanatic in a system out of control (jihad). It's time to make it clear that our laws protect us from violent religious extremists.