The death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui was meant to mete out justice to an Al-Qaeda "soldier" -- but has so far served largely as an embarrassing showcase for US government bungling and disfunction ahead of the September 11 attacks.
The trial enters what could be a decisive week on Monday, with Moussaoui determined to testify, despite misgivings from his lawyers, who appear to have emerged on top after three weeks of courtroom drama.
Prosecutors rested their case for the execution of Moussaoui, who says Osama bin Laden told him to fulfill his dream of flying a civilian airliner into the White House, late last week.
They maintain that Moussaoui's "lies" while in jail in August 2001, gave his Al-Qaeda "brothers" time to pull off the world's deadliest terror attack.
"Had Moussaoui told the truth on August 16 and 17, 2001, it would all have been different, and those 2,972 people, or at least some of them, would be alive today," said Prosecutor Robert Spencer in his opening statement.
Though they ended with a strong showing by their key witness -- ex-FBI agent Aaron Zebley, who maintains that truthtelling by Moussaoui could have led investigators to 11 of the 19 hijackers in the 2001 attack -- much prosecution testimony seemed to end up aiding the defense.
FBI agent Harry Samit for instance, testified he had warned his bosses a stunning 70 times, after nabbing Moussaoui at a flight simulator school, that he could be a terrorist planning to hijack an airliner.
The next day, defense lawyer Edward MacMahon sparked more disbelief in the courtroom, when he mentioned Samit's testimony to former FBI officer Michael Rolince, who asked : "I am just curious as to what document it was?"
MacMahon shot back : "Mr Samit's communication to your office dated August 18, 2001."
Defense lawyers promised back at the start of the trial of the only man charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks, that they would not put the US government on trial.
But mistakes by officials, miscommunications between the CIA and the FBI, and gaffes by US federal aviation authorities which allowed the 9/11 suicide teams to stay undetected, have formed the central theme of the effort to spare the Frenchman of Moroccan descent from the death chamber.
9/11 ringleader's rookie mistakes
On one occasion, a flying school instructor testified last week, 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta and fellow hijacker Marwan Al-Shehhi stranded a small single-engined plane on a taxiway at the busy Miami International Airport -- forcing a large jet to take avoiding action.
Their transgression earned the flight school that rented them the plane a telling off from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) -- but no follow on action.
It was a similar story when the pair decided to buzz a Florida airstrip to practice take-offs and landings after it was closed for the night.
Another Al-Qaeda suicide pilot, Hani Hanjour, was meanwhile attracting suspicion across the country in 2001, at a flight simulator school in Phoenix, Arizona.
When the school's manager Peggy Chevrette told the local FAA supervisor that Hanjour's bad English and appalling flight skills could end up hurting himself or others, the jury heard the official suggested providing him with a translator -- in contravention of his own agency's rules.
Other entries in the catalogue of government incompetence revealed at the trial, included the story that another of the hijackers lived in a California house with an FBI informant.
The Defense started its case on Thursday by highlighting the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency knew that two of the eventual hijackers -- Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar -- were linked to a senior Al-Qaeda figure behind the US embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, dubbed a "major league killer."
But the CIA did not tell the FBI for over a year that the two men had entered the United States.
That prosecutors even got to the point of resting their case, and presenting a witness as strong as Zebley, may be seen as a qualified success -- as a week earlier, Judge Leonie Brinkema had been on the verge of throwing the case out.
In the end she dismissed seven federal aviation witnesses, after it emerged that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lawyer Carla Martin, had funnelled them trial transcripts and briefed them.
Defense lawyers are expected this week to introduce evidence -- probably in the form of a stipulation -- a statement agreed by both parties and read in court -- from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, presumed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, who is being held by the United States in an undisclosed location.
They are likely to portray their client as a marginal figure, regarded by the "real terrorists" in Al-Qaeda as a nuisance.
Jurors are being asked to decide whether Moussaoui is responsible for a single death on September, 11, 2001, and therefore is eligible for the death penalty.
If they decide unanimously that he is, there will be a second stage of the trial, at which September 11 victims will testify as to the devastating impact the attacks wrought on their lives.
Should the jury decide Moussaoui will live, he will remain in prison for the rest of his life.
Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse