You don't actually have to go to law school and pass the bar exam
to know that it is probably a bad idea for a defendant representing
himself in a capital punishment case to repeatedly belittle the
integrity of the judge.
Nonetheless, this seems to be a frequent feature of the highly
unusual legal strategy emerging in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui.
At one point, he refers in legal memos to US District Judge Leoni
Brinkema by placing the letters "SS" before her name, to suggest she
presides in court like a Nazi shock troop commander.
"SS Brinkema do[es] not want me to speak out to anybody before
she declare[s] me crazy," he says in one of many hand-written
motions filed in the case. "Stalin also declared his enem[ies] crazy
before killing them."
Mr. Moussaoui's performance so far in court, where he is on trial
for allegedly being the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, has
prompted many analysts to dust off the old legal saw about how
anyone who serves as his own lawyer has a fool for a client.
But beyond all the rantings of this Muslim fundamentalist, the
trial may be important for generations to come. It will test how far
the US government may go in limiting the legal knowledge and
expertise available to a criminal defendant deemed a potential risk
to national security.
He is expected back in federal court in Alexandria, Va., on
Thursday, after Judge Brinkema gave him a week to reconsider whether
he really wants to plead guilty to a six-count indictment that
carries a maximum penalty of death.
But there is more going on in the Zaccarias Moussaoui trial than
just the high-octane rhetoric of a self-proclaimed Al Qaeda member
and supporter of Osama bin Laden who deeply distrusts just about
everyone involved in his trial - particularly his own court-
appointed lawyers. (He says they are "just a horde of blood
sucker[s] in disguise.")
If Moussaoui seems particularly unschooled on the finer points of
federal law - by attempting to plead no contest earlier this month
and trying last week to enter a partial guilty plea - it isn't just
because he never attended law school. It is also because federal
prosecutors and Judge Brinkema have denied him access to the one
lawyer he says he trusts.
Houston lawyer Charles Freeman, who is also a Muslim, met several
times with Moussaoui in June to discuss legal issues. But federal
prosecutors put an end to the meetings. They insisted that if Mr.
Freeman was going to offer legal advice to Moussaoui he must file a
formal request to the judge to act as a lawyer for Moussaoui and
must also obtain approval and clearances from the US government.
Freeman objected to having to submit to a US investigation before
he could have a series of informal conversations with Moussaoui
about federal law. He didn't want to represent Moussaoui, he said,
he just wanted to help him understand the implications of various
If the government had "the expectation that I would merely roll
over and play dead for them intellectually or otherwise, then they
were sadly mistaken," Freeman wrote in a motion to the judge asking
permission to continue to talk to Moussaoui. …