November 13, 2007 / 10:59 PM / 12 years ago

CIA erred and had tapes in September 11 conspirator case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA erred in twice telling a court in the case of September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui that it did not have any recordings of interrogations of “enemy combatants,” when in fact it had three video or audio tapes, according to a letter released on Tuesday.

Zacarias Moussaoui is shown in an undated police photograph. The CIA erred in twice telling a court in the case of September 11 conspirator Moussaoui that it did not have any recordings of interrogations of "enemy combatants," when in fact it had three video or audio tapes, according to a letter released on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sherburne County Sheriffs Office/Handout

Prosecutors only recently learned of the tapes from the CIA, they said in the letter to the judge who presided over the case and to a U.S. appeals court that considered the Moussaoui case.

In court declarations on May 9, 2003 and on November 14, 2005, the CIA stated the government did not have any video or audio tapes of the interrogations. Moussaoui initially sought the testimony of several top al Qaeda witnesses as part of his defense.

When it made both declarations, the CIA in fact possessed two video tapes and an audio tape of the unidentified “enemy combatant” interrogations, the prosecutors said.

They said, however, that the recordings have no bearing on the Moussaoui prosecution. The recordings neither mention Moussaoui nor discuss the September 11 plot, they said.

The prosecutors said the errors in the CIA declarations, while “unfortunate,” did not cause any harm to Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty and received a sentence of life in prison after the jury refused to give him the death penalty.

Moussaoui was the only person charged in the United States over the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington by hijacked airliners in 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens.

Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, was arrested in August 2001 after he aroused suspicion while taking flying lessons in Minnesota.

The prosecutors said it appeared the authors of the CIA declarations relied on assurances from a CIA unit that did not know about the contacts of a different agency unit.

The letter is heavily censored to delete classified information.

“We bring the errors to the court’s attention ... as part of our obligation of candor to the court,” the prosecutors said. “The government will promptly apprise the court of any further developments.”

Editing by Randall Mikkelsen

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