Retrial of Suspect in 9/11 Attacks Begins in
By MARK LANDLER
Published: August 11, 2004
HAMBURG, Germany, Aug. 10 - A German court on Tuesday began the retrial
of Mounir el-Motassadeq, the only person to be convicted for involvement
in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with the disclosure that the United
States would for the first time share evidence about the plot.
The conviction was reversed in March by an appeals court, which said
that critical evidence had been withheld by the German and American
authorities. Having been sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing
support for some of the suicide hijackers, Mr. Motassadeq was freed in
The decision by the United States to offer limited cooperation to the
Germans introduced a combustible element to the second trial, which many
here had expected would be a frustrating replay of the first, and two
other Sept. 11 prosecutions, which have foundered on a dearth of
It was not clear what information the United States planned to hand
over. In a three-page diplomatic note faxed to the German government by
the State Department on the eve of the trial, Washington said it would
provide "unclassified summaries of relevant intelligence information."
Lawyers here said the summaries could include excerpts from
interrogations of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a suspected member of Al Qaeda who
is in American custody and who is believed to have played a central role
in the Sept. 11 plot. He could shed light on whether Mr. Motassadeq knew
about the plans,
In keeping with past practice, the Justice Department refused to allow
any captured Qaeda suspects to testify at the trial. The United States
did not respond to a request by the court for testimony from the former
director of the central intelligence, George Tenet.
Mr. Motassadeq's lawyers are seeking to head off the prospect of
damaging new disclosures by arguing that any statements made by
suspected terrorists in American prisons would be inadmissible as
evidence because they might have been obtained through torture.
Invoking the conditions at the military detention camp in Guantánamo
Bay, Cuba, and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, the
lawyers promised to make the trial as much about American conduct since
September 2001 as about the events leading up to the attacks.
The lawyers' approach drew an emotional reaction from a relative of one
of the victims. Dominic J. Puopolo, a 38-year-old computer consultant
from Miami Beach, Fla., whose mother was on one of the planes that
terrorists flew into the World Trade Center, urged the panel of five
judges not to turn the proceedings into a "sweeping indictment of the
"You're desecrating the memory of 3,000 people who died, including my
mother," he said, his voice shaking, addressing the court as a
coplaintiff, the status the victims' families have been accorded in the
Across the courtroom, Mr. Motassadeq, a 30-year-old Moroccan who came to
Germany in 1993 as an engineering student, listened impassively. Dressed
in a black shirt and trousers, his beard longer than during the last
trial, he turned down an invitation to speak.
That Mr. Motassadeq had links to terrorists is not in dispute. He was a
friend of two of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi,
wiring money to Mr. Shehhi. He also admitted attending a terrorist
training camp in Afghanistan sponsored by Osama bin Laden. But he denied
knowing about the impending attacks and said he had helped the hijackers
Reached by phone in Marrakesh, his father, Ibrahim Motassadeq, said,
"People are searching for something that doesn't exist."
During the trial in Germany of another Moroccan suspected of being a
member of Al Qaeda, Abdelghani Mzoudi, the German police faxed a letter
to the court summarizing some intelligence that Washington had made
available to the German authorities under conditions that it not be
turned over to the court.
The letter said that a man - who was not identified but who is widely
believed to be Mr. bin al-Shibh - told his American captors that neither
Mr. Mzoudi nor Mr. Motassadeq was aware of the planning or the details
of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Motassadeq's chief lawyer, Josef Grässle-Münscher, played down any
new evidence from the United States, saying it would be "fourth-rate"
and suspect. "The torture issue is relevant because of two of the
potential witnesses are in Al Qaeda detention camps," he said.
Mr. Grässle-Münscher laid out a withering case for the American appetite
for torture, quoting from one Justice Department memorandum that argued
that Qaeda prisoners were not protected by the Geneva Conventions and
another that listed permissible forms of coercive treatment.
He also quoted testimony from prisoners who said they had been subjected
to abuse by American soldiers in Afghanistan. The sometimes graphic
descriptions were laboriously translated into German.
A lawyer for the families of Sept. 11 victims, Andreas Schulz, said the
tales of abusive American behavior would have little impact because the
case would be decided by a panel of judges rather than a jury.
The danger, he said, is that it could be used to block damaging
evidence. "If you introduce transcripts, you have to answer the
questions, 'How were they obtained? What was the context?' " he said.
After months of refusing to share information, Washington's promise of
some cooperation was greeted with polite skepticism in court. The
presiding judge, Ernst-Rainer Schudt, raised an eyebrow several times as
he listened to a German translation of the American note.
The United States said it was treating the German court in the same way
it was dealing with federal prosecutors in Virginia who are trying to
rebuild their case against another suspect in the Sept. 11 plot,
The case against Mr. Moussaoui, a French citizen, has been delayed
repeatedly because of wrangling over the lack of access to testimony
from captured Qaeda prisoners.
Souad Mekhennet contributed reporting for this article.