Notebook: France's Moussaoui Dilemma

This reporter's notebook was written by CBS News producer Laura Haim. Haim also reports as a U.S. correspondent for France's Canal Plus.



The French defense team for confessed al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui — who is a French national of Moroccan origins — is preparing itself for the worst.

For those lawyers who are following the trial in France and Alexandria, the judge is now the only hope to avoid death, because she's clearly against the death penalty.

In Paris, Patrick Baudouin, a lawyer for Moussaoui's mother, said: "this trial is a theater play. It is staged and I am very pessimistic on the sentence. If Moussaoui is sentenced to death, we will organize with French and European human rights associations a huge movement and protests to appeal it. We will fight the death sentence. French people are against the death penalty in any case."

Already some French officials are confirming that France has always been against the death penalty and will express clearly this position.

Due to the recent economic crisis and demonstrations in the country, the Moussaoui trial has been covered — just at its beginning — by most French media. Then, it was not a story anymore.

"News have been too busy recently in our country to follow up daily the Moussaoui trial, we just heard it through the mother who was all over the French press," says Christine Ockrent, an important French political editorialist.

She acknowledges that, "due to the situation in the poor neighborhoods with a lot of young Muslim people, it's extremely difficult for the French press to report how young French Muslims see Moussaoui."

This week, due to the French holidays, all moving 9/11 testimonies were reported, but not really followed in a huge way.

However, Bernard Zekri, news director of French Television Canal Plus, warned: "Next week everyone will expect the sentence. There's absolutely no sympathy for a terrorist in France but it will be a huge news if Moussaoui is sentenced to death because the French people are very opposed to any kind of death penalty."

French Consul is inside the courtroom daily with a legal analyst. It sends daily reports to the French Justice Department.

For this trial, French and American people also exchanged some documents. An agreement to cooperate on the Moussaoui case in the fight against terrorism was made between French, Germans and Americans in 2003. And it was emphasized recently by Secretary Condoleezza Rice during her recent trip in Paris.

This was a sensitive issue in this case, according to some reliable sources inside the American intelligence community.

A spokesperson at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., said: "Official French position is clear. France is against the death penalty each time someone is facing it. This position in the Moussaoui case will be the same. We will fight a death sentence with our European partners opposed to the death penalty. However, an extradition request for Moussaoui is impossible because he did not commit any crime in France.

"So far, Moussaoui has refused several times any help or assistance from the French Embassy. What he will decide at the end of his trial, any request he might have about the death penalty issue will be respected.

"Moreover, we will fight for him like for any Mexican who is facing the death penalty in the United States."
  • Christine Lagorio

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