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Moussaoui Defense Questions His Mental Health


Defense attorneys for confessed al-Qaeda conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, put a psychologist on the witness stand today. They hoped to convince the jury that Moussaoui is a paranoid schizophrenic, and for that reason he should be sentenced to life in prison, not death. NPR's Larry Abramson joins us from the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. And Larry, what evidence did the psychologist give that Moussaoui is mentally ill?


Well, they, they turned this courtroom into a seminar on mental illness, Robert; that we heard a lot about the characteristics of mental illness, we heard about the fact that Moussaoui is 25 percent more likely to be a schizophrenic because both his sisters and his father have been similarly diagnosed. And then they gave a lot of examples of paranoid schizophrenic behavior that Moussaoui has exhibited. For example, when he was given a computer so he could work on the case, he wouldn't allow anybody from the public defender's office to turn it on. He insisted that somebody in the jail turn on the computer, as it was supposed to be a sign of his paranoia about the public defenders.

He wouldn't accept any evidence to come through the public defender's office, because he was so paranoid about them. Instead, he wanted it to go through the U.S. Attorney's office, and, of course, the U.S. Attorney is the office that wants him to be put to death.

He also pointed out that he has this, that Moussaoui has this delusion that President Bush is going to release him, and, you know, basically said throughout, don't listen to Moussaoui. Don't listen to all of that testimony that we heard about. Listen to me, this man is deluded. If he tells you that he's responsible for everything, if he tells you that he doesn't feel any remorse, remember that this is a diseased mind.

SIEGEL: And we should point out here that while Moussaoui's lawyers are making this claim on his behalf, it's not a claim that he has endorsed.

ABRAMSON: No, that's absolutely right. He does not want them up there doing that. He's been making faces at us to indicate that he doesn't endorse the idea that he's mad.

SIEGEL: Well, let's move on to the cross examination of the psychologist. What did the prosecutors ask him?

ABRAMSON: Well, first of all, they tore down the psychologist's qualifications, saying, look, you never really interviewed Mr. Moussaoui. The psychologist only had an hour long interview, during which Moussaoui was obviously not very cooperative, and most of the analysis was done based on motions, writings that Moussaoui has submitted, and the prosecutor also made the point that it's not paranoid to think that people are out to get you when Moussaoui wants to testify. The defense attorneys urged him, pleaded with him, don't testify, because it will hurt your case.

So the prosecutor made the point that that's what you want to do is testify and somebody is trying to stop you from doing it, then you have a reason to say, hey, these people aren't out for my best interests. It's not paranoid to think that kind of thing. He also pointed out...

SIEGEL: It fell to the prosecutors to make the argument, I'm sorry, Larry. It fell to the prosecutors to argue that Moussaoui--by opposing his own defense team, since he has different interest in mind--might not be acting in a paranoid fashion, he might be rational in doing so?

ABRAMSON: That's right, and this is happened a lot in this case, that we've seen the prosecutors supporting Moussaoui, and his own defense attorneys trying to tear him down, because they don't think that he has his own best interests in mind.

And also, in cross examination, they pointed out that Moussaoui is a goal-oriented person. He got flight training. He received money. He, when he was captured, he lied to the FBI. He did all of these things that require careful planning, and are not the sign of a diseased mind as the psychologist would have it.

SIEGEL: And from what you said earlier, I gather that as all of this was being said about him, Moussaoui himself reacted with some derision in the courtroom?

ABRAMSON: He's been making a lot of faces. One of his outbursts today was a beautiful terrorist mind, a reference to John Nash's, the movie about John Nash, A Beautiful Mind, sort of likening him to another famous sufferer of schizophrenia.

SIEGEL: What happens next in the sentencing phase of the Moussaoui trial?

ABRAMSON: Well, we're going to be hearing from more psychologists, and we're also going to be hearing from rebuttal witnesses from prosecution--witnesses who haven't testified yet, to try to bring home their point that Moussaoui is not mad, and should be put to death. So we have several more days of testimony, it sounds like right now.

SIEGEL: So there will be government witnesses who will come on the stand to say that what Moussaoui did was criminal, but not insane, not irrational?

ABRAMSON: That's right, and this is a point they keep having to drive home, because this man is such an unusual person, they have to figure out what's madness and what's al-Qaida.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Larry.

ABRAMSON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Larry Abramson at the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia on today's testimony in the Moussaoui trial.

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.