Networks argue for televising Moussaoui's trial; U.S. says that could affect witnesses

Wednesday, January 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ A trial that could reveal Osama bin Laden's internal operations should be televised, a lawyer for accused Sept. 11 accomplice Zacarias Moussaoui argued Wednesday.

Moussaoui, the only person accused of conspiring with bin Laden and the hijackers to kill and maim thousands, sat at the defense table in a green prison jumpsuit, cocking his head slightly to hear the arguments.

His lawyer, Edward MacMahon Jr., was joined by TV networks in seeking to overturn a ban on cameras. He argued only briefly during the hearing, telling U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema that his client believes televising the proceedings would provide ``an added layer of protection'' in guaranteeing a fair trial.

Brinkema said she would rule no earlier than Tuesday.

Most of the oral arguments during the half-hour hearing were conducted by a lawyer for Court TV and C-Span in favor of live coverage and an attorney from the Justice Department opposing it.

``The entire nation has a direct interest in these proceedings, if not the entire world,'' said Lee Levine, an attorney representing the television networks. He contended that the ban _ first imposed on still cameras in 1946 _ is unconstitutional.

Justice Department Attorney Elizabeth Collery said the government is concerned that witnesses' testimony would be affected if they knew they were on live television. That, in turn, she said, could affect the jurors.

Brinkema said she also is concerned about the security of witnesses and other participants in the trial. Having not only television pictures but permanent images of witnesses, the judge and others on the Internet long after the trial ``could be a chilling problem,'' she said.

During the hearing, two small television cameras which could hardly be seen were turned on to televise the proceeding to a nearby overflow room for those who could not get seats.

The judge said the small cameras show how technology has changed to make TV less intrusive, but Collery said the same security concerns remain regardless of improvements in the technical equipment.

Also responding to the judge's question on whether radio broadcast should be permissible, Collery said, ``I still think dangers ... exist'' because witnesses would remain self-conscious about their testimony.

Levine, the Court TV attorney, said neither radio nor the openness of the trial to those sitting in the courtroom provides the same public access as television.

``The right to observe is the right to observe what goes on in the courtroom,'' he said. ``Observation is seeing as well as hearing.''

He said the public, because so many state and local trials are televised, ``is now comfortable that television is an unobtrusive medium'' in the courtroom.

Collery, however, argued: ``There is not a long-standing tradition of cameras in the courtroom.'' While public seating is often limited, she said, ``it's never been necessary to hold them (trials) in amphitheaters.''

At least some courts in every state allow televised state and local trials. Others media organizations supporting a trial broadcast include the Radio-Television News Directors Association, CNN, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, NBC, CBS and ABC.

While the position of the news organizations was hardly a surprise, the issue took on a higher profile when Moussaoui's lawyers filed a motion contending that live broadcast would help guarantee a fair trial.

Federal prosecutors countered that everyone involved would be endangered by live television because al-Qaida members almost certainly would be tuned in.

Among trials of people alleged to have al-Qaida links was last year's conviction in New York of four men in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Moussaoui faces indictments on six counts, charging him with conspiring with al-Qaida members and the Sept. 11 hijackers to kill and maim thousands of people. Facing a possible death penalty if convicted, he has entered no plea. Brinkema lodged an innocent plea for him.

TV experts said a televised trial probably would get extensive, if not gavel-to-gavel, coverage on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. Broadcast networks were less certain of their plans, in part because jury selection is not scheduled until Sept. 30.