January 18, 2002

Judge Cites Security, Rejects TV in Moussaoui Trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters -- A U.S. judge on Friday rejected a request by cable network Court TV to televise the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, saying there were ``significant concerns'' about security in the trial of the first person indicted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

In a 13-page ruling, District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema rejected the request by Court TV to overturn rules banning cameras in federal courtrooms.

``Significant concerns about the security of trial participants and the integrity of the fact-finding process justify a ban on photographing and broadcasting this trial,'' said Brinkema, who will preside over Moussaoui's trial at the Alexandria, Virginia courthouse.

``In particular we find that audio or visual broadcasting of any portion of these proceedings is likely to intimidate witnesses and jurors, as well as threaten the security of the courtroom and all those involved in this trial.''

U.S. Justice Department lawyers had argued that point and said televising the trial, due to begin in October, could also dissuade potential foreign witnesses from appearing.

Moussaoui had partially supported the petition, with his court-appointed lawyers saying he thought televising the trial would help enhance the fairness of the landmark case.

Moussaoui is charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to murder thousands of people in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks on America. Four of the six charges carry a possible death sentence.


Court TV, supported by numerous television networks as well as an audio news agency, said in its petition the public had a right under the First Amendment to see and hear the proceedings first hand, given the importance of the trial.

Brinkema said the ban does not violate the constitutional rights of either the public or the broadcast media.

And though she understood the desire of the public to watch the trial, the purpose of it was to provide a verdict.

``The purpose of this trial is not to provide catharsis to the victims or to educate the world about the American legal system,'' she said. ``Instead the purpose is to determine the innocence or guilt of this defendant.''

In oral arguments earlier this month, Court TV, which broadcasts legal proceedings to about 66 million subscribers, had said televising would not intimidate or cause a disturbance in the courtroom because of advances in technology.

But Brinkema said it wasn't just the size of the camera but the fact that the images could be preserved forever.

``Today it is not so much the small, discrete cameras or microphones in the courtroom that are likely to intimidate witnesses, rather, it is the witness' knowledge that his or her face or voice may be forever publicly known and available to anyone in the world.''

Jurors and law enforcement officials could also be endangered by having their images shown around the world since al Qaeda allegedly monitors trial proceedings, Brinkema said. She noted that Court TV had offered to black out faces if necessary, but said mistakes could be made.

``Given that this case involves allegations that members of the al Qaeda conspiracy, a world wide terrorist organization with cells operating within this country, monitor trial proceedings involving its members, any mistake could expose the juror or witness to serious risks to their personal safety.''

Brinkema also said Moussaoui, or other trial participants, might use the opportunity to engage in ``showmanship.''

She noted that at his arraignment, Moussaoui insisted on personally telling the court he would not respond to the charges against him.

``This behavior suggests that the defendant's conduct in this case may be both unorthodox and unpredictable.''

In his first appearance at the court, Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French native, stood to say he had nothing to plea. His attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Copyright 2002. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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