Will Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker in the Sept.
11 attacks, become a TV star?
In a Virginia courtroom today, federal district judge Leonie
Brinkema will hear arguments about that possibility when she
considers Court TV's petition to broadcast Mr. Moussaoui's trial.
At issue is whether cameras in court serve to educate and inform
the public or only distract participants and distort justice.
The role of cameras in court has been debated by lawyers from the
1935 kidnapping trial involving Charles Lindbergh's baby through the
2000 presidential showdown at the US Supreme Court.
This time, the questions come with an added twist: a defendant
who allegedly represents a global terrorist movement.
Soapbox for hate?
Opponents of the Court TV petition worry that a televised trial
would give Moussaoui a high-profile soapbox to promote an anti-
American world view.
The channel says its single unobtrusive video camera would help
Americans exercise what it calls a "constitutional right to observe
the trial" of the only suspect indicted so far in the worst
terrorist attack in the nation's history.
Moussaoui, a French national of Moroccan descent, asserted in a
court filing that the presence of cameras could "add an additional
layer of protection" to ensure the trial is conducted fairly.
But Justice Department lawyers argue that cameras may scare away
witnesses and intimidate jurors afraid of terrorist reprisals.
Even if such concerns were addressed, other critics of the
proposal worry that putting the trial on TV could create the kind of
circus-like atmosphere that surrounded O.J. Simpson's murder trial
in 1995. In that case, the judge and attorneys faced relentless
second-guessing from armchair lawyers.
Regardless of whether cameras appear, Moussaoui has already shown
signs of defiance in the courtroom.
At his arraignment last week, Moussaoui said only, "In the name
of Allah, I do not have anything to plead." (His lawyers entered a
not-guilty plea on his behalf.) He also remained seated while others
in the courtroom stood for the judge's departure.
If convicted, Moussaoui could be sentenced to death for
conspiring with Al Qaeda operatives to prepare the attacks. He was
arrested in August on immigration charges while attending a
Minnesota flight school.
No matter which side proves more persuasive in court today,
Brinkema may actually have little say about whether the camera
appears at the trial.
While almost every state allows cameras in some proceedings - and
37 permit them at criminal trials - a 56-year-old rule promulgated
by judges and approved by Congress bars the filming of trials in
federal court. …