- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

Attorneys for suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui yesterday asked a federal court to allow televised coverage of his pending October trial, saying the French Moroccan believes it would help guarantee fairness and public access to the case.

“Mr. Moussaoui doesn’t object to CourtTV’s motion,” said court-appointed attorney Edward MacMahon Jr., arguing in support of a motion by CourtTV, the cable network program, to be allowed to televise the trial. “He believes it would assist in an added layer of protection for other people to see and watch.”

Federal prosecutors opposed the motion, saying televising federal trials is prohibited by rules of criminal procedure and policies already in place at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where the trial will be held. They also argued that televising the trial could endanger jurors, witnesses and court officials.

Elizabeth Collery, a lawyer assigned to the Justice Department’s criminal division, also argued that televising the trial could limit the number of foreign witnesses willing to testify and could affect what they would say.

She said the televised appearances could help the al Qaeda terrorist network identify prosecution witnesses, would increase the security risk for court officials and jurors and argued there was no constitutional right for television viewers to observe a trial.

Cameras are explicitly banned from federal courtrooms and trials have not been allowed to be shown on television. The trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was shown on closed-circuit TV to the members of the victims’ families.

The Moussaoui trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 14, unless there is a successful motion to delay. Jury selection is scheduled Sept. 30.

CourtTV, a division of AOL Time Warner, asked U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who will hear the case, to allow the trial to be televised. Joined in the case by C-SPAN networks, the cable show has argued that the ban on cameras in the courtroom is unconstitutional although four federal circuit courts have upheld the constitutionality of rules barring the broadcasting of criminal trials.

The cable program’s attorney, Lee Levine, told the court the public had a right to free access to hear and observe the trial, given its importance, and that the judge should declare rules that ban cameras in the court unconstitutional and allow them in this case.

Judge Brinkema described the request as “significant,” saying CourtTV was asking her to “declare unconstitutional a federal rule … one does not take that job lightly.” During the hearing, Judge Brinkema discussed several compromise suggestions, such as allowing a radio broadcast of the trial.

The judge is not expected to issue a ruling on the motion until next week.

Judge Brinkema also expressed concern about whether it was prudent to allow a permanent photographic record of the trial, noting that the images could be transmitted by the Internet.

“It does certainly pose a security risk. If witnesses felt that photographs would be out there, that could be a chilling problem,” she said, noting that televised images of the trial “are forever out there.”

Mr. Moussaoui, 33, who sat silently as his attorneys argued in support of the CourtTV motion, was indicted Dec. 11 by a federal grand jury on six counts of conspiracy. He is accused of scheming with fugitive Osama bin Laden and members of the al Qaeda terrorist network to murder thousands of people in the September 11 attacks.

Four of the counts call for the death penalty; Judge Brinkema set March 29 as the deadline for the government to decide whether it would seek the death penalty.

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