Tuesday, March 14, 2006

'The Show Must Go On'

Clearly, the jackassery surrounding the Moussaoui trial in the US has reached fever pitch. For those who aren't following the case: Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called '20th hijacker' in the 9-11 attacks, is in the penalty phase of his trial, following his confession that he planned to fly an airplane into the White House on behalf of Al Qaeda. Confession in hand, the Justice Department, on behalf of the Bush administration, is seeking the death penalty. Despite what I would consider a tenuous case (I'm no lawyer myself, mind you), there had still been some anticipation that Moussaoui might yet see the firing squad. That was, until Monday, when the judge presiding over the trial rightly flipped her lid after discovering that a lawyer working for the prosecution had violated her orders not to prepare witnesses before making their testimony. This idiotic action came close to derailing the government's entire case for the death penalty, and although a mistrial has been avoided, the witnesses in question are not going to be able to testify. Basically, the prosecution is screwed.

Before we delve into the bizarreness of this latest twist, let's consider the importance of this trial. Moussaoui is the only person associated with the 9-11 attacks to have been charged in the United States. The government has thus far been foiled at nearly every turn trying to fight terrorism in the US legal system. Consider this: "Of the 120 terrorism cases recorded on Findlaw, the major information source for legal cases of note, the initial major charges leveled have resulted in only two actual terrorism convictions -- both in a single case, that of Richard Reid, the notorious shoe bomber. Of 18 actual charges of "terrorism" brought between September 2001 and October 2004, 15 are still pending and one was dismissed." That's right, one other 'terrorist' convicted as of last year. That's it. Yes, Moussaoui will go to jail for life, and fair enough, but the Bush administration's only shot at executing a real live, honest-to-goodness-pleaded-guilty al Qaeda cell member is going down the pooper, because of a moronic move by the prosecutorial team. This has to go down as a massive embarrassment. Recall that Moussaoui had represented himself for a good chunk of this trial, with no professional counsel, leading some to call him insane; the Feds still can't pin him down. Allah be praised, indeed. In fact, it occurs to me that bin Laden himself might have been spared the chair under these circumstances.

And now, behold the bizarreness (all quotes from the WaPo).

Brinkema, clearly exasperated by the new problems in the oft-delayed case, yesterday called Martin's conduct "the most egregious violation of the court's rules on witnesses" she had seen "in all the years I've been on the bench."...Even prosecutors were stunned by Martin's actions, calling them "reprehensible" in court papers and adding, "We frankly cannot fathom why she engaged in such conduct."

So who is this Carla Martin? Well, she apparently has worked her entire legal career at the Federal Aviation Administration, save for the last four years, where she has worked at the Transportation Security Administration. Since her actions defy explanation, and could land her in jail for contempt, I've been scratching my head as to why she would pull a stunt like this. One possibility is, she is an incompetent lawyer. Consider the following tidbits:

...Manno said he and Osmus asked to be assigned another lawyer about a week and a half before Martin sent them the e-mails at issue, because they felt Martin had a tendency to go off on tangents and was taking up a lot of their time.

...Duke University law professor Robert P. Mosteller said ethical restrictions against speaking with witnesses are drilled into every attorney. "Lawyers don't do things like this," he said. "The federal rule on witnesses is elegant in its simplicity, and it's usually not something people get wrong."

...Martin, the first to take the stand today, asked permission to address the court and was immediately cut off by an irritated Brinkema, who told her, "No, you're a witness."

Ridiculous stuff, indeed. But if you're looking for a more conspiratorial angle, consider this: astonishingly, she apparently also tried to coach the defense witnesses. So, what if she was not working on behalf of the prosecutors at all (remember, they were stunned by her actions), and instead 'was trying to prevent the Moussaoui witnesses from saying something that could result in a judgment against the Government and the airlines in the civil litigation'? That's TalkLeft's pet theory, and frankly, it's the only thing that makes any sense to me, aside from the incompetence angle. I mean, she clearly wasn't on the Justice Department's side...

...Further embarrassing the government, Martin's e-mails sharply criticized prosecutors' case, saying, among other things, that their opening statement "has created a credibility gap that the defense can drive a truck through."

...not that it matters to the judge:

Prosecutors sought to demonstrate that Ms. Martin was not part of the Justice Department team handling the Moussaoui case. But Judge Brinkema said that she was "an attorney for the United States and you all represent the United States. It's not the Justice Department against Mr. Moussaoui, it's the United States" that is trying to have him executed.

Nuts. But, as Moussaoui said himself yesterday, 'the show must go on.'


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