May 04, 2006

Moussaoui trial analysis on CNN

I want to bring in our terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen.

You spent a lot of time studying al Qaeda, studying this case. What do you think the reaction among the terrorists is going to be to this verdict?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think the reaction is going to be almost zero. Zacarias Moussaoui was an al Qaeda wannabe, he was somebody that al Qaeda was actually trying separate from the 9/11 plot.

We had a lot of testimony in this trial about what a disaster this guy was as a terrorist, and basically we want to push him aside, maybe give him a little bit of money, send him to the United States, if he can do some damage, that's great. But basically they wanted to marginalize him from al Qaeda.

Terrorist groups are not stupid. They don't want to have people like Zacarias Moussaoui on the team. He's too dangerous in the sense that he's irrational; he doesn't get along with people. And I think the real message of this trial is, in fact, that we're not trying the right people.

I mean, we have in our custody Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the operational commander of 9/11, and Ramzi Binalshibh, the other operational commander of 9/11, and as far as I can tell, there is no plan to put any of these guys on trial, even though they are in U.S. custody.

BLITZER: But both of them presumably are in U.S. custody outside of the United States, isn't that right?

BERGEN: Well, they're outside of the United States, but they're certainly in our custody, in American custody, and the question is, why can these guys not be on trial? If we can put Zacarias Moussaoui away for life without parole, which means he will never get out of this horrible prison, certainly if we put these guys on trial, they would immediately get the -- you know, they would get the death penalty. And, in fact, we had a very good history, in this country, of trying terrorists and they get life without parole whenever they're put on trial.

That happened in the U.S. embassy's case, that happened in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. And if there are things that are secret you don't want to let the general public know, there are things you can have in camera. There are ways of handling secret information in court information in courtrooms. And I think the larger message of this trial is why are we not putting on trial the people who actually planned the 9/11 attacks on trial.

BLITZER: Well, that's a good question and Tim Roemer, one of the former 9/11 commissioners asked exactly the same question.

Jeff Greenfield, you've studied all of this. So, what's the possibly explanation why Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh have not been brought to the United States to stand trial?

GREENFIELD: I think there is, Wolf, which is, in other conflicts, in World War II was the most dramatic one, when we created war crimes tribunal, we had defeated states and we were holding the people who were high officials within those state responsible.

And my feeling is that this whole broad fight, the notion that we can get some kind of ultimate victory. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't try these people, but the idea that we can defeat this movement, by trying to right people, if that's what anybody thinks, it seems to me, really...


BERGEN: Jeff, that's not the argument. That's not the argument. The argument is simply that we know who are the people responsible for 9/11, they have been in American custody. Why respect w aren't we trying them? I think that there are some answer, unfortunately.

We probably mistreated them in such a way, the "New York Times" reported, for instance, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was mortar boarded, which is essentially, a from of abused or even tortured where you take somebody, you make them feel like they're drowning and none of the things that he said are admissible in American court. That's the real story.

But I don't think this is the American way. And I think that we need to think very carefully about how to integrate these people, bring these people back into the American judicial system as opposed to this independent sort of prison system that we're running, which is administered by the CIA and is probably administered in countries outside the United States. But that is not the American way, I don't think.

GREENFIELD: My only point was this is such a different kind of struggle -- you're our expert on this -- then what we are used to thinking, that while the trials may make a lot of sense, if we can do it, or maybe they don't given what's happened to them, the idea that somehow by bringing them to justice, we bring to justice the whole movement, the way we brought the Nazi system or the Japanese system under Hirohito to justice, if anybody thinks that, and you know this better than anybody else on this program, that's probability widely misplaced is my point. No, Peter?

OK, yes.

BLITZER: OK guys, hold on for a second. I want to just take a very quick commercial break and continue our special coverage. We're standing by, waiting to hear from the president. Stay with us.

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM, we're reporting on the verdict that Zacarias Moussaoui will get life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than the death sentence. We're standing by, we expect to hear from the president of the United States, shortly. We're also standing by during our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, here in THE SITUATION ROOM to hear from the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, his reaction to what happened in this courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, today.

Jeff Toobin and Peter Bergen are still with us.

Jeff Greenfield, explain why you think this -- such an extraordinary that two of the real operators in 9/11 who are in U.S. custody, Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are not being tried whereas someone who may have been a bit player in all of this was tried and convicted, sentenced to life in prison.

GREENFIELD: No, I think Peter explained some of the problems that might arise if we try to -- the genuine concern is Moussaoui was in an American prison, he was captured he more or less told us that he wanted to do this. And I think they thought it was a relatively easy target, you know, that the so-called 20th hijacker.

And I think that they -- I think the thinking about this was that in some way this would make up -- this would prove that we got one of the people and might, if I can be a little cynical or skeptical about this, make up for what seems to have been a rather disastrous failure of intelligence, pre-9/11.

BLITZER: Peter, give us a final thought before we wrap up this hour's coverage.

BERGEN: It would be very unfortunate if the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui was the best we ever get in terms of the 9/11 plot. We've got a lot of other people to find Osama bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri and a lot of other people to try, in my view.