January 5, 2002
Terror Suspect Wants Live TV Trial Coverage
By Brooke A. Masters
Attorneys for Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man facing U.S. charges in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, asked a judge yesterday to allow a worldwide live broadcast of his trial next fall -- an unusual move for a defendant in a capital murder case.
"Mr. Moussaoui recognizes that the American criminal justice system will be on display for the entire world," wrote one of his attorneys, Edward B. MacMahon Jr. ". . . Televising . . . will ensure that the entire world is able to watch the proceedings and will add an additional layer of protection to see that these proceedings are fairly conducted."
The motion was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria just two days after Moussaoui took to the courtroom lectern to invoke Allah's name in refusing to enter a plea at his arraignment on six counts of conspiring with Osama bin Laden and others to hijack commercial airliners and crash them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Taken together, the moves suggest that Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan heritage, has strong views about the U.S. justice system and wants the world to know them.
"The defendant might want to use the trial as a political forum," said UCLA law professor Peter Arenella. "It serves his interest to have an international forum . . . especially if he is not particularly concerned about an acquittal."
Federal prosecutors were much less enthusiastic yesterday about cameras, arguing in a 22-page motion that they can distract jurors, lawyers and witnesses or cause them to change their behavior.
Moussaoui's case also raises safety concerns because some foreign witnesses have expressed fear of reprisals by bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, Justice Department appellate attorney Elizabeth D. Collery wrote. "A worldwide broadcast of these proceedings might assist Al Qaeda in retaliating against the witnesses," she wrote. "The purposes of public trials can be served without having televised proceedings."
But at least one former Justice Department official said the Moussaoui trial is a perfect opportunity for the United States to showcase its judicial system.
"We have a criminal justice system we can be proud of, and we ought to display it," said former deputy attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., the No. 2 official in President Bill Clinton's Justice Department. "Our nation has an interest in getting before the world the evidence we have against Moussaoui and more generally al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden."
Both sides were responding to a Dec. 21 request from Court TV to broadcast the October trial and pretrial hearings. C-SPAN asked for the same access in a motion filed late yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.
Cameras are banned from federal courtrooms. But lawyers for Court TV argue in their motion that the rule is unconstitutional. They also say that improved technology would reduce the impact of television in the courtroom and that worldwide interest in the Sept. 11 attacks makes the case for televising the Moussaoui trial particularly compelling.
"It's the United States v. Moussaoui. We as citizens are . . . also victims, and as victims we are entitled to hear and see the proceedings unfold," said Henry Schleiff, chairman and chief executive of Court TV.
Moussaoui, 33, was arrested in August after a Minnesota flight school alerted the FBI to behavior they found suspicious. A 31-page indictment charges him with conspiracy to commit international terrorism and three other capital counts as well as two counts that carry life in prison. The grand jury alleged that he trained in an al Qaeda camp, received money transfers from an alleged terrorist who also supplied cash to some of the hijackers and engaged in similar behavior to the 19 hijackers.
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill introduced by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) that would require closed-circuit broadcasting of the trial for family members of the attack victims. A similar service was provided for families in the Oklahoma City bombing without extending the privilege to the media and general public. The House has not acted on the measure.
Most state courts allow television cameras at the judge's discretion, but Northern Virginia judges recently have shied away from allowing cameras in cases that draw more than local media attention. Requests to televise the capital murder trial of CIA shooter Mir Aimal Kasi and the sexual assault case of sportscaster Marv Albert were rejected.
Moussaoui's support for televising the trial is unusual. Many lawyers fear that news coverage before and during the trial could bias the jury and lead the public to misunderstand the case. Many cite the months-long O.J. Simpson murder trial as the prime example of the ill effects of television.
"It distorts the process because nobody sits and watches it from start to finish. When you show highlights, you lose the larger picture," said Mark Hulkower, a former prosecutor.
Moussaoui's attorneys have asked for certain limits on coverage. They oppose televising pretrial hearings and want the judge to prevent news programs from replaying testimony. "There is a risk that a non-sequestered jury might, despite the order of the Court, see testimony that has already been given in court and thus give undue weight to the replayed testimony," MacMahon wrote.
Moussaoui may not share his attorneys' concerns. "It doesn't surprise me at all that an accused terrorist who says he is doing Allah's work would want a televised trial. . . . The goal here is maximum publicity," said Harvard University law professor Alan M. Dershowitz.
Copyright © 2002, Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.
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