The lone U.S. defendant charged as a conspirator with the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers "contemplated living past that date," according to a pleading released Tuesday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. The legal brief did not describe the operation.
In a separate development in the case, a three-judge panel of the court ordered that the public and news media be admitted to portions of a June 3 court session to consider whether Moussaoui may interview a senior al Qaeda captive.
The unanimous decision by the judicial panel essentially agreed with 11 news organizations that had sought greater openness.
The government had argued the hearing should be closed because classified information would be discussed. The panel said only the parts of the argument that dealt with such information would be closed.
Moussaoui's description of his role as an acknowledged al Qaeda loyalist was disclosed in a brief that was filed April 1 by the defendant's court-appointed lawyers. The court released the document Tuesday after classified portions were edited out.
The lawyers argued in favor of a lower court ruling that Moussaoui should be connected through a video hookup to interview an al Qaeda prisoner. The prisoner's name was blacked out, but he is widely believed to be Ramzi Binalshibh, the suspected Sept. 11 coordinator who was captured in Pakistan last year and now is in U.S. custody.
Moussaoui "contends ... that he was part of another operation to occur outside the United States after Sept. 11 involving different members of al Qaeda" from the 19 hijackers who died in the attacks, the lawyers said.
Moussaoui had been arrested the previous month, while taking flight training in Minnesota.
The defense motion said Binalshibh's testimony could back up Moussaoui's contention that he was not supposed to participate in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and the target of a fourth plane that crashed in western Pennsylvania.
The papers also said testimony established that Moussaoui, during a visit to Malaysia in 2000, "talked freely ... about a dream he had to fly an airplane into the White House."
Moussaoui spoke of the dream at the home of Faiz Bafana, a member of Jemaah Islamiya, a Southeast Asian group the United States says has links to the al Qaeda terrorist network. Bafana reportedly has been interviewed by U.S. officials.
"This behavior caused Bafana to think that Moussaoui was not serious about his dream, believing that otherwise Moussaoui would have insisted on going outside to discuss it," the pleading said. Moussaoui, worried about electronic surveillance, insisted on leaving the house anytime sensitive information was discussed, the defense lawyers said.
The June 3 appellate hearing on the witness access issue might not take place. The appeals court has asked the trial judge, Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., to attempt to work out a compromise.
If the hearing occurs, the appeals panel said attorneys could argue in public about whether the appeals court has jurisdiction in this pretrial stage; whether the executive branch's powers necessitate reversal of the lower court's decision in favor of access; and whether a defendant's normal right to potentially favorable information applies to an enemy combatant held overseas.
The motion was filed by The Associated Press, ABC, CNN, CBS, The Hearst Corp., NBC, The New York Times, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Star Tribune Co., Tribune Co. and The Washington Post.