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Moussaoui Fires Legal Team

Aired April 22, 2002 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news from just outside of Washington, D.C. The suspected 20th September 11 hijacker is in court today. Zacarias Moussaoui wants less restrictive jail conditions. Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena joins us from just outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Kelli, what did the judge decide?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, it was a very surprising situation in there. Zacarias Moussaoui spent most of his time firing his lawyers in court today. The minute he walked into the courtroom and sat down, escorted by federal marshals, he raised his hand in court. The judge acknowledged him.

He went up to the podium and he cited several versus from the Koran, he prayed for many things, including the destruction of the United States, and then went on to say that his lawyers did not give him fair representation, that he had no relationship of trust with his lawyers, that he did not confide anything, any information to them, and therefore, wanted them removed from the case.

He said that he was never presented with the option to hire his own lawyer, who he said he preferred to be a Muslim. He said that that was a violation of his rights under the American system of law. Said that he -- if he couldn't get a Muslim lawyer, wanted to defend himself, that he had the means -- the financial means to hire a lawyer. Again, he stressed that he was never given that option.

The judge, at the end of the session today, said that -- while he could represent himself once he was given a psychological evaluation, Moussaoui's lawyers argued that that because he has been kept in isolated conditions, and because he has had lights shining on him, and this has gone on for several months, that perhaps he wasn't in the right frame of mind to make this decision.

The judge said she would have a psychiatrist see him as quickly as possible to determine whether or not he is in the condition to make the decision, and then she said that she would not release the lawyers from the case because she thought that it was far too complicated for him to deal with, to deny him counsel. So she would keep them on the case until he was able to find a lawyer -- if and until he was able to find a lawyer, to represent him, a Muslim lawyer, obviously, then, of course, that would change the dynamics. So most of what happened in this courtroom today had nothing to do with the situation of his confinement. That was dealt with at the end of the hearing when most of the problems were already dealt with outside of the courtroom. Issues like allowing him access to a computer, and allowing him to view all of his documents, and allowing him unfettered access to his attorneys.

As a matter of fact, Zacarias Moussaoui said he only went along with coming to this hearing for confinement -- that he really didn't have a problem with the way that he was being kept in jail, but the only reason that he went along with it was to get access to the judge in order to do what he did today, which was basically dismiss his legal team -- back to you, pretty surprising.

KAGAN: So what happens now? I mean, he is allowed to look for his own lawyer. He has to prove he can pay?

ARENA: Right. Well, what happens is now is that one, he goes to the psychological evaluation to make sure that he is in the right frame of mind to make the decision. Secondly, if he is able to secure other representation that he is satisfied with, which also, you have to understand, in cases like these, only certain lawyers can look at the classified information that is involved in this case, so it would have to be a lawyer with those credentials.

So he would have to find another lawyer, or he represents himself, with his current legal team in the courtroom all along, because the judge said that she really felt that even a very bright individual, and she told Mr. Moussaoui that she thought he was a bright individual, would not be able to maneuver the court system when you are so used to other court systems. So, that's where we stand right now. I mean, we wait to see if he is able to secure another Muslim lawyer, or if he represents himself with his counsel sitting by, just in case.

KAGAN: Kelli Arena, Alexandria, Virginia. Thank you for the update.

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