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Moussaoui judge questions government

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By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer

November 20, 2007

A federal judge expressed frustration Tuesday that the government provided
incorrect information about evidence in the prosecution of Sept. 11 conspirator
Zacarias Moussaoui and raised the possibility of ordering a new trial in another
high-profile terrorism case.

At a post-trial hearing Tuesday for Ali al-Timimi, a Muslim cleric from Virginia
sentenced to life in prison in 2004 for soliciting treason, U.S. District Judge
Leonie Brinkema said she can no longer trust the CIA and other government agencies
on how they represent classified evidence in terror cases.

Attorneys for al-Timimi have been seeking access to documents. They also want
to depose government witnesses to determine whether the government improperly
failed to disclose the existence of certain evidence.

The prosecutors have asked her to dismiss the defense request. The government
has denied the allegations but has done so in secret pleadings to the judge
that defense lawyers are not allowed to see. Even the lead prosecutors in the
al-Timimi case have not had access to the information; they have relied on the
representations of other government lawyers.

After the hearing, the judge issued an order that said she would not rule on
the prosecutors’ motion until the government grants needed security clearances
to al-Timimi’s defense lawyer, Jonathan Turley, and the lead trial prosecutor
so they can review the secret pleadings.

Brinkema said she no longer feels confident relying on the government briefs,
particularly since prosecutors admitted last week that similar representations
made in the Moussaoui case were false.

In a letter made public Nov. 13, prosecutors in the Moussaoui case admitted
to Brinkema that the CIA had wrongly assured her that no videotapes or audiotapes
existed of interrogations of certain high-profile terrorism detainees. In fact,
two such videotapes and one audio tape existed.

Moussaoui, who had pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, was sentenced to life
in prison last year. Because Moussaoui admitted his guilt, it is unlikely that
the disclosures of new evidence would result in his conviction being overturned.

Turley, al-Timimi’s defense lawyer, praised Brinkema for taking a skeptical
view of the government’s assertions in addressing al-Timimi’s case.

"We believe a new trial is warranted," he said in a phone interview.
"We are entirely confident that there are communications that were not
turned over to the defense. These are very serious allegations."

Al-Timimi challenged his conviction in 2005 after revelations that President
Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to conduct certain types of
domestic surveillance without a search warrant. Turley contends that the program
is illegal and that any evidence obtained from such surveillance should have
been turned over to defense lawyers.

He is confident that al-Timimi, a prominent U.S. Muslim cleric who was known
to keep close ties with radical Saudi clerics would have been a target of the
surveillance program.

Brinkema made no rulings during the brief, 20-minute hearing in Alexandria,
but her displeasure at the government was apparent. Prosecutors did not have
the opportunity to speak during the hearing, except to note their appearance
for the record.

Al-Timimi, a born U.S. citizen from Fairfax, was convicted after prosecutors
portrayed him as the spiritual leader of a group of young Muslim men from the
Washington area who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means of preparing
for holy war around the globe.

After Sept. 11, they said, al-Timimi told his followers that the attacks were
a harbinger of a final apocalyptic battle between Muslims and nonbelievers and
exhorted them to travel to Afghanistan and join the Taliban to fight U.S. troops.

Several of his followers admitted that they traveled to Pakistan and received
training from a militant Pakistani group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, but none actually
joined the Taliban.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria declined to comment

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