Germany to drop 9/11 plot charges
Evidence against only man jailed for terror attack 'weak'
David Rose in Hamburg
Sunday July 18, 2004
German prosecutors are preparing to drop all the most serious charges against the only man convicted for the 11 September attacks, because they fear that crucial American evidence was obtained by torturing detainees.
The case is set to deepen further the rift between Germany and the United States, which accused the Germans of failing to act against terror when it first emerged three of the hijacking pilots had lived in Hamburg. 'No doubt they will complain bitterly,' a German anti-terrorist official said yesterday. 'Let us say we have different views on how to handle this problem.'
Mounir Motassadeq, 29, an alleged member of al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell based around hijack leader Mohamed Atta's apartment, admitted going to a training camp in Afghanistan, signing Atta's will and transferring thousands of dollars to accounts controlled by Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the plot's main planners.
But an appeals court quashed his original conviction and 15-year sentence last April on the ground that he should have had access to statements Binalshibh made to US interrogators after his capture in Pakistan.
Motassadeq claimed that Binalshibh's statements, which the Americans were refusing to make available, would have confirmed he knew nothing of the 9/11 conspiracy. The appeal judges said without testimony from Binalshibh or the plot's mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the case that Motassadeq was an active conspirator was weak. His retrial starts next month.
A senior German intelligence official told The Observer that, although the US Justice Department has now supplied the interrogation records, they would be virtually useless in their present state. 'They contain no details as to where Binalshibh and Mohamed were questioned, nor whether torture or other forms of force were used to make them talk,' he said. 'Their contents may be information and they may be disinformation.'
After the recent publication of photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib, and the admission by the US administration that a range of coercive methods were authorised for inter rogators in the war on terror, a German court would need firm evidence that the statements were truly voluntary, the official went on.
He said the German authorities were now resigned to dropping the charge that Motassadeq was involved in 9/11, and would have to settle for trying to convict him of membership of a terrorist organisation, for which he is unlikely to be jailed for more than the two and a half years he served between his arrest and appeal.
Josef Graessle-Münscher, Motassadeq's lawyer, said that under German law techniques which have been authorised in Guantánamo Bay, such as sleep deprivation and psychological deception, would render any statements inadmissible.
However, Binalshibh and Mohammed are prisoners not of the military but of the CIA, at an undisclosed location. It has been widely reported that their techniques have been harsher and have included 'waterboarding' - covering a prisoner's face with towels and pouring on water until he believes he is about to drown.
'In Germany, any use of force to produce a statement is unlawful,' said Graessle-Münscher. 'After Abu Ghraib, if the Americans want to see Motassadeq convicted for 9/11 they are going to have to prove both Binalshibh and Mohammed are in good health, and that they say Motassadeq was a conspirator.'