Doing Justice to Zacarias Moussaoui

By Rosenthal, John | Policy Review, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Doing Justice to Zacarias Moussaoui


Rosenthal, John, Policy Review


  THE DEFENDANT: I will testify. I will take the stand and tell the
  truth.
  THE COURT: For the third time, Mr. Moussaoui--
  THE DEFENDANT: Everybody know now that I will testify of the entire
  truth that I know.
  THE COURT: Mr. Moussaoui, you have been asked by the Court before not
  to speak. This is not your opportunity. Now, would you please sit
  down?
  THE DEFENDANT: For four years, I have no opportunity to oppose.
  THE COURT: I will ask the marshals to remove Mr. Moussaoui from the
  court yet again.
  THE DEFENDANT: This is pure tyranny. I will take the stand--
  THE COURT: Mr. Moussaoui--
  THE DEFENDANT:--and I will testify of the entire truth. Nobody can not
  say now that they don't know that I want to testify. I will take the
  stand, and I will say the truth that I know. And this defense is a
  fraud. This is not my defense. It is an entire fraud. They are lying
  from top to end.
  --Zacarias Moussaoui and Judge Leonie Brinkema, U.S. District Court
  for the Eastern District of Virginia, February 6, 2006 (1)

  Q[uestion]: Does anything that happens here make a difference?
  A[nswer]: Yes, that I should speak the truth.
  Q: Well, the question was does it make a difference? Does anything
  that happens here, the witnesses' testimony, the questions the counsel
  asked, what the government puts up on the screen, the evidence, does
  any of that make a difference in terms of your belief as to what will
  happen to you?
  A: I believe in destiny.
  Q: You believe in what?
  A: Destiny.
  Q: In destiny?
  A: That's correct. I believe that God will give life and death, and
  just to be sure that what I'm doing now, is that I just have to speak
  the truth and God will take care of the rest.
  --Testimony of Zacarias Moussaoui, U.S. District Court for the Eastern
  District of Virginia, March 27, 2006 (2)

On January 18, 2002, barely four months after the September 11 attacks, U.S. District Court judge Leonie Brinkema made a fateful ruling that would profoundly impact the public's ability to understand the nature of these attacks and of the enemy that carried them out. Rejecting motions by the television networks Court TV and C-Span, Judge Brinkema ruled that court proceedings in the case of the United States vs. suspected 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui could not be broadcast in any form. The judge thereby upheld the mandatory character of a federal rule against the broadcast of judicial proceedings. She insisted, moreover, that she would have banned cameras and audio broadcasting even if the rule had not been mandatory. In a hearing on the motions, the judge pondered the petitioners' argument that the rule violated the public's constitutional right to access:

    Well, you know, this courthouse and the court reporters who will be
    handling this case have realtime court reporting. Which means that
    practically simultaneous ... transcripts will be available of the
    trial proceedings. Now, that, of course, is the official record....
    Why is that not more than sufficient to fully advise the public at
    large as to what is going on in the courtroom? (3)

In her ruling, the Judge then made clear that she had determined that it was. "An audio-visual feed of the proceedings to a nearby courtroom has increased seating capacity to 200 seats," she wrote. "Daily transcripts will be electronically available within three hours of the close of each day's court session.... These arrangements fully satisfy the constitutional requirements for openness and accessibility. Moreover, the immediate availability of the transcripts will avoid the concerns expressed by the intervenors about minimizing inaccurate reporting."

The judge did not mention, and apparently did not factor into her determination, that while transcripts would indeed be electronically available after each court session, they would only be so at a price: namely, $1 per page, with a typical trial session running into the hundreds of pages. …

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