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From the AP (similar story @ cnn.com) U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema handed down the sanctions in response to the government's refusal to obey her orders granting Moussaoui access to three al-Qaida prisoners that he claimed would testify he was not involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. She rejected the more severe option of dismissing all charges, as the government, Moussaoui and his court-appointed lawyers had asked.
The defendant, a French citizen, has denied he was involved in the Sept. 11 planning and contended al-Qaida witnesses could back him up. The judge said in her ruling that Moussaoui deserved the chance to present that testimony. "That the United States has deprived Moussaoui of any opportunity to present critical testimony from the detainees at issue in defense of his life requires, as a sanction, the elimination of the death penalty as a possible sentence," she said. "The defendant remains exposed to possible sentences of life imprisonment."
Brinkema said she barred any Sept. 11 evidence against the defendant because "it would simply be unfair to require Moussaoui to defend against such prejudicial accusations while being denied the ability to present testimony from witnesses who could assist him in contradicting those accusations."
Brinkema concluded that Moussaoui's constitutional right to potentially favorable witnesses took precedence over the government's need to protect classified information that could be revealed in testimony by the captives. Prosecutors had argued that national security would be gravely harmed if any details were revealed about the sensitive interrogations of the prisoners, who are held in undisclosed locations outside the United States.
The Bush administration could decide to move Moussaoui's case to a military tribunal, where national security would likely trump a defendant's access to witnesses. However, that decision would likely be made only after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites), in Richmond, Va. ruled on the witness-access issue. The side that loses in the appellate court could ask the Supreme Court to intervene. Brinkema postponed the effect of her ruling so the government could appeal.
And the Feds fight back. Shine on you crazy diamond!
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