ALEXANDRIA, United States (AFP) – The death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui enters what may be its decisive week, with the defendant determined to turn the courtroom into a soapbox for his creed of anti-Americanism.
Moussaoui, the only man tried in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks, has made clear he wants to speak out, though his legal team would much prefer he didn’t.
“I will testify Zerkin, whether you like it or not, I will testify,” he shouted at one of his lawyers, Gerald Zerkin, as he was led from court on Thursday.
The Frenchman, who has admitted to conspiring with Al-Qaeda to fly airliners into prominent US buildings, does not cooperate with his lawyers, after forfeiting the right to represent himself following a string of volatile courtroom appearances.
Many analysts believe testimony from the unpredictable Moussaoui could undo sterling work by defense lawyers who have picked deep holes in the prosecution case for their client’s execution.
While he has sat quietly while the jury has been in court, Moussaoui has left no doubt as to his feelings about the US justice system.
“God Curse America!” Moussaoui shouts at just about every recess in the trial, occasionally varying his spiel to invoke divine blessing on Osama bin Laden, or Al-Qaeda.
Prosecutors rested their case on Thursday, maintaining that Moussaoui’s “lies” while in jail in August 2001, gave his Al-Qaeda “brothers” time to hijack civilian airliners and fly them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, just outside Washington.
Though they ended with a strong showing by their key witness — ex-FBI agent Aaron Zebley, who maintains that truthtelling by Moussaoui could have led investigators to 11 of the 19 hijackers in the 2001 attack — much prosecution testimony seemed to end up aiding the defense.
FBI agent Harry Samit, for instance, testified he had warned his bosses a stunning 70 times, after nabbing Moussaoui at a flight simulator school, that he could be a terrorist planning to hijack an airliner.
The next day, defense lawyer Edward MacMahon sparked more disbelief in the courtroom, when he mentioned Samit’s testimony to former FBI officer Michael Rolince, who asked: “I am just curious as to what document it was?”
MacMahon shot back: “Mr Samit’s communication to your office dated August 18, 2001.”
Defense lawyers promised at the start of proceedings that they would not put the US government on trial.
But mistakes by officials, miscommunications between the CIA and the FBI, and gaffes by US federal aviation authorities which allowed the 9/11 suicide teams to stay undetected, have formed the central theme of the effort to spare Moussaoui from the death chamber.
The defense is expected to introduce evidence — probably in the form of a stipulation, a statement agreed by both parties and read in court — from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, presumed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, who is being held by the United States in an undisclosed location.
Testimony is also expected from the likes of former CIA director George Tenet, though it was not clear if he would appear in person, or feature by way of testimony he previously gave to the bipartisan commission which investigated the September 11 attacks.
Jurors are being asked to decide whether Moussaoui is responsible for a single death on September, 11, 2001, and therefore is eligible for the death penalty.
If they decide unanimously that he is, there will be a second stage of the trial, at which September 11 victims will testify as to the devastating impact the attacks wrought on their lives.
Should the jury decide Moussaoui will live, he will remain in prison for the rest of his life.