Monday, May 17, 2004

Moussaoui Order Opens Door To New Political Troubles For Bush Admin

The first shot in the new legal war over al Qaeda detainees has been fired in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, according to CNN.

The Moussaoui case is shaping up to be an early test of how the abuses at Abu Ghraib are affecting the judicial climate. An appeals court panel asked the federal government to clarify whether Moussaoui's prosecutors have been able to directly pose questions to key Qaeda detainees, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

If so, this may clear the way for Moussaoui's defense teams to pose questions for KSM and other al Qaeda detainees, likely in written form.

Such questions might include the following, which is directly relevant to Moussaoui's case: "Did you provide evidence against Mr. Moussaoui as the result of torture?"

If the answer is "yes" (almost certainly the true answer), what little direct evidence has been presented against Moussaoui could be thrown out. If the answer is "no," the court may attempt to force prosecutors to document that claim, in light of the latest media reports on U.S. prisoner abuse.

Either development would be a PR disaster for the Bush administration. The first would probably completely torpedo the only 9/11-related prosecution yet attempted by the U.S. Not an impressive track record as we approach the third anniversary of the attack.

The second scenario would open the door to a series of new investigations, exposing the what increasingly appears to be a very ugly underbelly of the U.S. war on terror.

Before Abu Ghraib, the federal government's legal position on secrecy and detainee rights boiled down to a two word thesis: "Trust us." The courts have thus far allowed the administration a surprising amount of latitude on that basis.

After Abu Ghraib, trust is no longer an option. "Verify" is the order of the day.

-- JMB