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German Court Overturns Conviction, Sets New Trial For Sept. 11 Suspect

By Desmond Butler

The New York Times -- KARLSRUHE, Germany

A German appeals court ordered a retrial Thursday for Mounir el-Motassadeq, the only person successfully prosecuted for involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Complaining that crucial evidence had been withheld by the German and U.S. authorities, a five-judge panel threw out the year-old conviction of Motassadeq and sent the case back to the lower court in Hamburg, which had sentenced him to 15 years in prison on more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder.

The presiding judge, Klaus Tolksdorf, said Motassadeq, a Moroccan, was denied a fair trial because the United States refused to allow testimony by Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspect in U.S. captivity who is believed to have played a central role in the Sept. 11 plot.

The decision is the second setback in recent weeks for German prosecutors, whose case against Abdelghani Mzoudi, a friend of Motassadeq tried on similar charges, collapsed last month over the same issue.

It suggests that it will be impossible to convict either Motassadeq or Mzoudi unless the United States makes Binalshibh or transcripts of his testimony available to the German courts.

Similar issues are threatening to derail the prosecution in the United States of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who is the only person facing trial in a U.S. court in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

A federal appeals judge in Virginia threw out much of the case against Moussaoui last year and barred the use of the death penalty after the Bush administration refused to provide the defendant with access to captured al-Qaida prisoners who might have bolstered his defense. Once again it was Binalshibh who figured most prominently.

The Justice Department has appealed the judge’s ruling in Moussaoui’s case. A decision is pending from a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department said that Thursday’s decision was an internal matter for Germany. “We will continue to cooperate to the fullest extent possible with Germany in the fight against our common foe, the terrorists,” a department spokesman, Mark Corallo, said, according to The Associated Press.

Tolksdorf said that, under German law, all evidence must be made available whenever possible and that the justice system could not bend to accommodate security concerns stemming from international efforts to fight terrorism.

“We cannot abandon the rule of law,” he told the court. “That would be the beginning of a fatal development and ultimately a victory for the terrorists.”