University of Southern California

Extradition of Execution? Policy Constraints in the United States’ War on Terror

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Note by James Finsten
From Volume 77, Number 4 (May, 2004)

On February 19, 2003, a court in Hamburg, Germany convicted Moroccan national Mounir Motassadeq of over 3000 counts of accessory to murder in connection with the attacks of September 11, 2001. Motassadeq stood accused of being a member of the Hamburg terrorist cell that plotted and executed the hijacking of U.S. aircraft and subsequent attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He was convicted in a Hamburg higher regional court and sentenced to the maximum term of fifteen years in prison. Motassadeq’s was the first conviction related to the September 11 attacks in any jurisdiction.

On March 4, 2004, a German appellate court vacated this conviction and ordered a new trial after Motassadeq’s lawyers successfully argued that the U.S. government withheld potentially exculpatory evidence during the first trial. In citing the failure of the United States to cooperate with the German courts, Judge Klaus Tolksdorf, presiding judge of the five-judge panel, stated that “‘under the German law, all available evidence must be made available . . . [and] the justice system could not bend to accommodate security concerns stemming from international efforts to fight terrorism. . . . [T]he fight against terrorism cannot be a wild, unjust war.'”

Given that the murders took place on American soil and that the vast majority of victims were American citizens, it may come as a surprise to the American public that their government did not attempt to extradite Motassadeq so that he could face trial in U.S. courts. After all, the United States has held Zacharias Moussaoui since prior to September 11 and charged him with six counts of conspiracy in the aftermath of the attacks. President George Bush himself promised “to pursue the terrorists in cities and camps and caves across the earth.” The United States was willing to pursue regime change in Afghanistan and indefinitely detain al-Qaida suspects in Cuba, and it would stand to reason that the United States would seek custody of anyone who was suspected of aiding the perpetrators of September 11.

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