DETROIT -- A federal judge has admonished Attorney General John Ashcroft for violating a court order by making remarks about defendants in the nation's first major terror trial after Sept. 11, 2001.
US District Judge Gerald Rosen said that Ashcroft's statements could have compromised defendants' rights to a fair trial but that the violations did not warrant contempt charges or require Ashcroft to appear in the Detroit court to explain himself.
"The attorney general's office exhibited a distressing lack of care in issuing potentially prejudicial statements about this case," Rosen wrote in an opinion released yesterday.
Lawyers for Karim Koubriti, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, and Ahmed Hannan argued Ashcroft had violated Rosen's order limiting publicity in October 2001 when he said the three men were suspected of having knowledge of the attacks. The Justice Department retracted the statement two days later.
The attorneys said Ashcroft again violated the order last April when he called cooperation by a government witness "a critical tool" in fighting terrorism.
Koubriti, 24, of Detroit, and Elmardoudi, 36, of Minneapolis, were convicted in June of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
The jury convicted Hannan, 34, of Detroit, of a fraud charge, while a fourth defendant was acquitted.