Trail resumes with government's wings clipped.
Yesterday, in the death penalty trial of confessed terrorist Zacharias Moussaoui, trial judge Leonie Brinkema, upon learning that Carla Martin, a lawyer working with the Transportation and Safety Authority, had given potential witnesses copies of trial transcripts and coached them in what to say, announced that she was seriously considering throwing out the whole trial (in which case Moussaoui would receive an automatic sentence of life in prison).
"This court is faced with a very serious taint of a key portion of this case," Brinkema said. "It is very difficult for this case to go forward."
Today, she announced her decision-- she will let the case move forward, but without any testimony relating to airline security, the portion of the trial which would have involved the testimony of the witnesses who had been improperly prepped. The governments case essentially had two components: 1) active steps the FBI could have taken and 2) defensive steps that aviation officials could have taken if Moussaoui had tipped off authorities about what he knew prior to the 9/11 attacks. Now, they are reduced to the first of these two components.
But that is not all. More problems have arisen. Today, Brinkema said
“I don’t think in the annals of criminal law there has ever been a case with this many significant problems...
“More problems arose today that none of us knew about yesterday.”
and serious ones at that:
Among those problems:
Government lawyers sent a letter Feb. 14 saying that at least three federal aviation officials sought as defense witnesses refused to talk to defense lawyers. The three said they had never seen the letter and one of them said he would have been willing to talk to the defense.
Martin told one official, sought as a defense witness, that he was not to have contact with defense attorneys.
Two of the witnesses read and watched news coverage of the week-old trial despite the judge’s order they not follow the case. The government admitted it did not advise witnesses of the judge’s order governing their conduct.
Martin not only e-mailed seven witnesses about trial events but also told one person that the defense was trying to portray Moussaoui as “cuckoo.”
Then the judge asked a very direct question:
As Robert White, a Transportation Security Administration intelligence liaison officer, was testifying that he had not seen the letter saying he was unwilling to talk to talk defense lawyers, Judge Brinkema interrupted the questioning.
“Did you see the subpoena issued for you?” she asked.
“No,” White replied.
TSA intelligence analyst John Hawley and Matthew Kormann, an officer in the TSA intelligence service, also said they were unaware that a letter had been sent saying they refused to talk to the defense.
Now, it is easy to look at a Zacharias Moussaoui and see that he is the enemy. He has admitted that he was in training for a possible future terrorist attack similar to the 9/11 attacks.
And whatever one feels about the death penalty (I personally oppose it), there is no question that someone like Moussaoui deserves the most severe punishment that we can give him.
But let's not forget in our rush to vengeance one of the things that makes us different from the kind of society that Moussaoui so admires:
In America, we have laws, and we believe among other things that anyone is entitled to a fair trial. Our Constitution enshrines this right. In America, a man, even a Zacharias Moussaoui, has the right to seek testimony from his accusers, and expect that they will give honest, not pre-screened answers.
The government says they will appeal. I hope they lose that appeal. With their complete failure to follow even the most basic laws and standards of legal ethics, at least in regard to the airport safety portion of this case, to reinstate it would be to implement a Kangaroo Court, on a stage which will be watched by the United States and the World.