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U.S. Government Decides to Seek Death Penalty Against Zacarias Moussaoui

Aired March 28, 2002 - 10:06   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go now live to the Justice Department for that announcement. We expect any moment now Attorney General John Ashcroft who we see there at the left of the podium. We don't have indication of the man who is speaking. I believe that looks like Asa Hutchinson. I'm not sure on the right.

But we are expecting any moment now the attorney general to make official announcement that CNN has been confirming its reported this morning that the Justice Department is going to be seeking the death penalty in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called accused 20th hijacker. I apologize for the misidentification of the site. This is actually in Miami, Florida today.

And, again, let's just listen in and see what's going on.


JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me just say that I'm sorry we were a few minutes late. We had a member of the Border Patrol Color Guard that fainted. We wanted to make sure he was in good condition before we began the news conference. I thank you for your patience.

It's a delight to be here with Secretary Mel Martinez, who came to this country in search of freedom and a better life and made this country a better place. And he is one of the outstanding contributors to the administration of George W. Bush, the president of the United States and to the well-being of the United States of America, and I couldn't be more pleased than to have the opportunity of sharing this moment in Florida with him.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

ASHCROFT: It's an honor.

And I'm delighted that the administrator of the DEA, Asa Hutchinson, is here with me today. He's developed an aggressive effort at the Drug Enforcement Administration that is international in scope, and it is going to bear fruit: It will result a diminished level of drug availability in this country. We've just come from a great celebration. In my 30 years of public service, I don't think I've ever had a higher honor than welcoming people as citizens of the United States and to welcome a gentleman from here in Florida, who is becoming a citizen as he is finishing his 100th year of life, is an inspiration indeed.

To embrace America's promise is to contribute to America's promise, and this land of immigration is a land that has been enhanced and strengthened because individuals have come from all over the world to contribute.

I had the privilege of helping provide security for the Olympics just a few weeks ago. The Olympics are a set of games where people come from every quarter of the globe to achieve at the highest levels known to mankind, and when the Olympics come to the United States, they literally mirror what has been happening in the United States since our country began: People coming from every quarter of the globe to achieve at the highest levels possible.

That's the story of America. And being here was like winning an Olympic gold medal. It was to witness this refreshing of America, this re-energizing of America. And, of course, to stand next to Mel Martinez, in that respect, was a real honor.

And now I have an announcement that I would make regarding the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. On December 11, 2001, a Grand Jury sitting in Alexandria, Virginia returned an indictment charging Zacarias Moussaoui with offenses for his role in the September 11 attacks. Four of the conspiracy charges are death-eligible charges, carrying the potential of the death penalty if Mr. Moussaoui is convicted.

When I announced the return of the indictment, I stated that the Department of Justice would follow its well-established protocol and procedure before I decided whether or not to seek the death penalty in the Moussaoui case.

The department procedure provides -- the protocol provides among other things for the submission by the defendant of any reasons why he believes the death penalty is not appropriate.

Having completed the process set forth in the protocol, I announce today that I have authorized the United States attorneys for the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of New York to seek a sentence of death. Following my instructions, the United States attorneys have filed a notice of intent to seek a sentence of death.

In the notice, we have alleged numerous reasons, called aggravating factors, which we believe indicate why the death penalty is appropriate. Among these reasons is the impact of the crime on thousands of victims.

To that end, we remain committed not only to carrying out justice in this case but also to ensuring that the rights of the victims are fully protected. If there are questions, I'd be happy to answer questions.

I will not be making very many additional statements about the Moussaoui case.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: First of all, welcome to Florida.

ASHCROFT: Thank you. It's always good to come to Florida.


ASHCROFT: The Immigration and Naturalization Service, under the direction of James Ziglar, proposed to the Congress a major reorganization plan last November.

The Congress provided an endorsement of the opportunity to effectuate that plan last week.

It is not as if nothing were being done to renovate the INS, but the opportunity now to go forward with the plan that would separate the enforcement function in the INS from the service function in the INS really holds the great promise of improving the performance of this agency.

This agency has an incredibly substantial job. There are about 550 million border crossings into and out of the United States every year. The United States of America welcomes more immigrants than all other nations of the world combined, and we have historically.

The opportunity to renovate this agency which is now made a reality by the willingness of Congress to provide authority and participate and authorize the plan to be carried forward, which was submitted last November, will help us substantially.

James Ziglar, the commissioner of the INS, was the architect of that plan. He has the capacity to oversee its development, and it's being carried out. And we look forward to the improvements.

I would add one other fact. President George W. Bush campaigned on a promise to renovate the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The submission of the plan last November was a major step forward in achieving that process. And now that the Congress has made it possible to move forward with that plan submitted last November, we are even more steps taken in the direction of the appropriate service to America by the INS.


ASHCROFT: The process of the department includes review at a number of levels. And so that the decision is a decision shared by professionals who are in the criminal justice system and supervised by individuals, part of the process, all the way up to and including the attorney general. We don't discuss the way those decisions or the give-and-take of those decisions, but I think, for my part, the aggravating factors in this setting, which are required to be a part of our considerations, which I cited in my statement, were important.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) I wonder what kind of assurance you can give to this community that they are not going to be mistreated and those police officers are going to perform their duty as (OFF-MIKE)

ASHCROFT: Thank you for that question. As we secure America and as we provide the basis for the safety and security, which is important to all people in America, whether they be guests of this country or whether they be residents of this country or those who are actually citizens of this country, we need the cooperation and help of law enforcement agencies who can work together to get that job done.

The governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, has entered into negotiations with the Justice Department to develop ways of making sure that we have this kind of integrated and coordinated effort so that the safety and security of our citizens is assured in a context that respects the dignity and rights of individuals. Frankly, Florida is a leader in this respect.

And we have been working on an agreement between the state of Florida and the Justice Department and the INS which is sensitive to the concerns that you have raised because I think it's fair to say that the right kind of training and the right kind of coordination between the local and state law enforcement agencies, if we're able to reach and effectuate this agreement, will characterize a relationship that is accountable and provides a basis for respecting the rights of individuals while we ensure the safety and security of individuals.

When the president of the United States addressed the issues that are the subject of your question, he said that we welcome people to the United States who come here to do the right thing, but people should beware if they are coming to the United States to do the wrong thing.

CANDIOTTI: We just received this reaction a short time ago from Zacarias Moussaoui's defense attorney, Frank Doneham, here in this Washington area. Actually, he said he had no comment other than to say he does not try cases in the press. In his words, apparently, the attorney general does.

So we want to remind you now that the U.S. government decided to seek the death penalty against Zacarias Moussaoui. Four of the six counts Moussaoui faces, including conspiring to use an airplane in effect as a flying bomb, that those four of the six counts, do carry a possible death sentence upon conviction. The U.S. attorney general said he is moving forward with that this day, and he cites, among other reasons, that because there were 3,000 victims from 15 countries, including 343 members of the New York City Fire Department, Port Authority officers, New York City police officers, FBI agents, Secret Service, et cetera, et cetera, that indeed is one of the counts that could carry death penalty, including murder of U.S. employees. We also have reaction from, or lack thereof, from the defense attorney as this case moves forward. You will recall that Zacarias Moussaoui is a French citizen, and the French government has raised objections to the Justice Department seeking the death penalty, because the French object to the death penalty on principle, that it is a violation of civil rights.

The question now, is whether the French government will, as it has alleged to have threatened, to withdraw its cooperation from helping the U.S. government in putting together this case against Zacarias Moussaoui -- Leon.

HARRIS: And then the question we mains whether or not that will actually matter in this case. We will have to find that out down the road.

Susan Candiotti in Washington, thank you very much. Appreciate that.


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