"He killed the 9/11 victims as surely as if he had been at the controls of one of those airplanes." --U. S. Attorney Robert Spencer, in his opening statement in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui
"You can't judge him to get revenge for 9/11. You can't make him some substitute for Osama bin Laden. And you can't make him a scapegoat for what government officials did not do." --Edward MacMahon, court-appointed lawyer for Zacarias Moussaoui, in his opening statement.
On the horrific morning of September 11, 2001, when planes crashed into buildings and fell from the sky, Zacarias Moussaoui was sitting in a jail in Minnesota facing immigration charges. Even if he had not been arrested three weeks earlier, when he raised suspicion by paying large sums to a flight training school to learn to pilot a Boeing 747 despite his never having piloted a small plane, it seems unlikely that Moussaoui would have been "the twentieth hijacker" on one of the four doomed planes. Nonetheless, largely because of the convenient fact that he was alive and in custody, the French citizen of Moroccan descent became the only person tried in an American courtroom for involvement in the 9/11 tragedy. As such, his trial came to be much more than a proceeding to determine whether one would-be terrorist would live or die: it became an opportunity for survivors and relatives of 9/11 victims to seek that elusive "closure," and an occasion for evaluating--with the benefit of revealing documents released at the trial--whether thousands of innocent lives could have been saved if bureaucrats only focused more on protecting the country than advancing their careers.
Background of the 9-11 Operation
In large part because of the Moussaoui trial, the American public knows much more than it did before about the terrorist planning that led to the history-changing morning that we all remember well. Much of that information came in the form of documents labeled "substitutions for testimony"--statements gathered from captured Al Qaeda leaders and members detained in CIA-operated detention facilities around the world. Although the people making the statements played for greater roles in 9/11 than did Zacarias Moussaoui, none are likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom because (among other reasons) the interrogation techniques to which they have been subjected almost certainly amounted to a conviction-threatening denial of their rights under the Constitution.
The most important and revealing information about how 9-11 came together came from the captured Al Qaeda described by the U. S. government as "'mastermind' of the September 11 attacks," Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ....Continued