Does Zacarias Moussaoui Need A Lawyer?

In an interview with NEWSWEEK today, San Diego civil-rights attorney Randall Hamud revealed that he has been hired by the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker."

Hamud says Moussaoui's mother, Aicha El-Wafi, called him on May 14 from France and hired him as her attorney. She asked him to fly to Virginia, where her son is being held to try convince Moussaoui not to represent himself in his upcoming trial. If convicted on terror charges, Moussaoui could receive the death penalty.

"I am now officially representing Aicha El-Wafi," says Hamud, who has been an outspoken critic of the government investigation since September 11. Hamud has already represented two students who were arrested in the weeks after the September 11 attacks. One of those students, Mohdar Abdoulah, is still in custody.

But Hamud denies he has been retained by Moussaoui. "Apparently," Hamud says, "there are already leaks from anonymous government sources suggesting that I am representing Moussaoui, and that is false. I am her lawyer, not his. She [El-Wafi] has asked me to visit Moussaoui and dissuade him from representing himself, which would be a disaster."

The May 14 phone conversation between Hamud, who does not speak French, and only a little Arabic, and El-Wafi, who speaks French and Arabic, but not English, was aided by a translator.

Moussaoui initially was arrested on immigration violations after he aroused suspicion by trying to buy time on a jumbo-jet simulator at a flight school near Minneapolis. He was detained in Minnesota on Aug. 16 but after the September 11 attacks, authorities sent him to New York for questioning as a material witness. On Dec. 11, Moussaoui was indicted in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on six counts: conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, engage in aircraft piracy, destroy an aircraft, use weapons of mass destruction, murder U.S. employees and destroy property.

Moussaoui "deserves a fair trial like anyone else," Hamud says. "I believe the case against him is weak. It is based on circumstantial evidence. He's being singled out by a government that is embarrassed that it could not prevent September 11 from happening. They are looking for victims. He needs and deserves a strong and viable defense. He's already being treated like a convicted terrorist."

Hamud says he has been in touch with Moussaoui's public defenders. "They are good lawyers, they are trying to do the right thing," says Hamud. "They know I plan to visit Moussaoui."

Hamud doesn't know if Moussaoui will agree to see him. "I don't know, but I suspect that, since I was hired by his mother, that will give me some credibility," he says. "They have a positive relationship, there is nothing negative there at all. She is very concerned for her son, and she believes he is innocent. I'll be acting as a sort of liaison between the mother and the defense attorneys and the son."

And what does he intend to talk to Moussaoui about? "I just plan to do a lot of listening," he says. "I'm not there to give him any orders."

Hamud says he will try to see Moussaoui as soon as "I get FBI clearance to visit him," he said. "I don't suspect there would be any reason why I won't get clearance."

El-Wafi came to the United States in January to attend the arraignment of her son. She told reporters at the time that the U.S. government should try Moussaoui on the evidence and not make him into a scapegoat to assuage public anger about the attacks. "I share the sense of loss and unhappiness Americans have felt since September 11. But people should not try my son just to make an example of him," she said.