The U.S. Justice Department might be throwing out its prosecution of suspected Al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui because it doesn’t want to allow him to question another Al Qaeda detainee in court. Without the testimony of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the judge might throw out the entire indictment against Moussaoui. What’s the Justice Department’s rationale? It says any testimony “would necessarily result in the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”
Almost three years later, what kind of classified information could Moussaoui possibly have? Surely nothing that future terrorists could use. The only thing he could talk about is conditions in the prisons. Bin al-Shibh is being held in a secret location under military law but has reportedly confessed to being part of the 9/11 attacks. Surely all the information he knows about the attacks is also known by dozens of other Al Qaeda members still at large. Why is U.S.Attorney John Ashcroft’s Justice Department so nervous about letting bin al-Shibh speak in public?
A government will classify a piece of information if it feels that its disclosure would threaten national security: that with it, its enemies could use it to launch some new attack. But everything that Moussaoui and bin al-Shibh know is already known by our enemies. Governments sometimes will abuse their power and declare something classified if it contatins information that would be embarrassing to its reputation or its political leaders.
It’s a big deal to risk throwing away a case like this, and it seems likely that Ashcroft is trying to keep some piece of information from the American people. He could be trying to keep skeletons of past U.S. misdeeds safely in the closet, using “national security” as the blanket to cover up the truth. The two suspected terrorists might know quite a bit about U.S. intelligence coöperation with Afghani terrorists during the 1980s (when they were aiming their attacks at the Soviet Union). They might know about U.S. intelligence mistakes that could have prevented 9/11. They surely know about conditions in the secret prisons were even detainees’ names and locations are considered “classified information.” Who’s security would be threatened if this kind of information got published?