Wednesday, March 09, 2005
At Sept. 11 Suspect's Trial, U.S. Expert Asked About Al-Qaida Interrogations
By David Rising Associated Press Writer
Published: Mar 8, 2005
HAMBURG, Germany (AP) - A U.S. investigator Tuesday told the retrial of a Moroccan accused of aiding the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers that Osama bin Laden personally approved the plot against the United States two years before the attacks.
The testimony by Dietrich Snell, a New York deputy attorney general, was based on the Sept. 11 Commission's report to the U.S. Congress, which he worked on. The report said the three Hamburg-based suicide pilots were recruited by bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, an al-Qaida leader in U.S. custody and alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
The Hamburg state court called Snell as a witness in the retrial of Mounir el Motassadeq to find out more about the interrogations of Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, the Hamburg cell's suspected contact with al-Qaida. The court has received summaries of the questioning of Binalshibh and Mohammed, but has repeatedly asked the United States for more details.
Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt asked Snell if he knew whether torture was used in the interrogations, which would make the evidence inadmissible at the Hamburg trial. Snell said he didn't know.
"It was made clear to us that we would not be given any information about the interrogations themselves and how they were conducted," he testified.
El Motassadeq, 30, is being retried on more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization on charges he provided logistical support for suicide pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah.
He was convicted in 2003 on those charges and sentenced to the maximum 15 years.
But an appeals court dismissed the conviction last year, ruling he was unfairly denied testimony by key al-Qaida suspects in U.S. custody, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Binalshibh.
Binalshibh was arrested in Pakistan on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and is now in secret U.S. custody.
Whether el Motassadeq's terrorism charge will stand may depend on how much of the plot was planned in Hamburg.
Snell said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly approached bin Laden in 1996 with the general idea of using aircraft to attack buildings. About three years later, the al-Qaida chief approved what became the Sept. 11 plot, Snell said.
"According to KSM, it appears to be somewhere early in 1999," Snell said.
The Sept. 11 Commission report includes a section on "The Hamburg Contingent" in which el Motassadeq is identified as an "associate" who helped conceal a 1999 trip to Afghanistan by the three future suicide hijackers and Binalshibh.
"While the four core Hamburg cell members were in Afghanistan, their associates back in Hamburg handled their affairs so that their trip could be kept secret," the report said. "Motassadeq appears to have done the most."
It was unclear how much new insight Snell would be able to add, as the section in the report is largely based on testimony heard in el Motassadeq's first trial and at the trial of his friend and fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi, who was tried on the same charges and acquitted in February 2004.