U.S. Opposes Televising Terror Trial

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Contending that televising a terrorist trial would endanger witnesses, judges and a federal courthouse, the Justice Department is opposing a request to air the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged so far in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The government's position pitted prosecutors against the Court TV network - which is seeking to televise the trial live - and Moussaoui, who supported the broadcast as a way to ensure a fair trial.

The prosecution and defense submitted their written arguments Friday to U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who has scheduled a hearing next Wednesday. Federal court rules ban cameras in the courtroom, although many state and local courts allow broadcasts.

Prosecutors said Osama bin Laden's terrorists could find the broadcasts useful “in identifying and targeting prosecution witnesses.”

There's also a threat to the judge, while “coverage of trials in federal courthouses would place those buildings, and all in them at greater risk,” prosecutors contended in their filing.

Defense lawyer Edward MacMahon Jr. countered, “Mr. Moussaoui recognizes that the American criminal justice system will be on display for the entire world as the trial of this action proceeds.

“Televising the trial ... 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.”

This is the "longest of long shots" for Court TV, says Legal Consultant Andrew Cohen. "Federal law doesn't give the trial judge here much leeway at all to permit the trial or any part of the pre-trial proceedings to be televised; in fact federal law expressly prohibits it and it's not likely this judge is going to want to be the one to try to get around that ban."

Full Coverage
Radical Change: a look at the man charged with the deadliest crime ever committed in the United States and whether his actions should have raised many more red flags.

Pretrial Tactics: CBS Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen on what to expect in the months leading up to Moussaoui's fall 2002 trial.

Click here to read the entire 6-count indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui. (.pdf format)

"Televising the trial...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."

This is the type of issue where it really doesn't matter a whole lot what the parties say, said Cohen. In other words, both sides in the case could beg the judge to televise the trial and otherwise be in complete agreement and she still would be hard-pressed to do so because federal law is so specific about precluding such broadcasts.

Moussaoui's written memorandum said he does not support televising pretrial proceedings because potential jurors might be exposed to evidence that could be eliminated from the trial.

Moussaoui's position was contingent on Court TV providing a live transmission to all interested stations or networks, the memo said. Court TV's spokeswoman, Betsy Vorce, said, “It is our hope to provide a live feed.”

Jury selection in the case begins Sept. 30 and opening arguments are scheduled for about two weeks later. Moussaoui is charged with conspiring with bin Laden, the hijackers and others to commit the Sept. 11 attacks and could be sentenced to death if convicted. Brinkema entered a plea of innocent after Moussaoui said he had no plea.

Despite the federal rules, cameras were in the courtroom for the Oklahoma City bombing trial, which was shown on closed-circuit TV to the victims' families.

The Senate has passed legislation to allow a similar arrangement for the Moussaoui case, but the House has yet to act.

Moussaoui's motion also asked that delayed coverage not be allowed if the jury is allowed to go home each day rather than being sent to a secure location.

“There is a risk that a nonsequestered jury might, despite the order of the court, see testimony that has already been given in court and thus give undo weight to the replayed testimony,” the defense lawyers argued.

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