Eleven media organizations asked a federal appeals court Friday to allow open oral arguments and to release documents in the case against alleged terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, accused in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has kept most documents secret and scheduled a closed May 6 hearing as it considers the government’s appeal of a trial judge’s order. Prosecutors objected when the lower court ruled secretly that Moussaoui could have access to an Al Qaeda prisoner to help his defense.
The media organizations asked that documents become public in 10 days unless the court rules they should be secret and publicly explains why.
Likewise, the motion filed in Richmond, Va., asked that oral arguments be open unless the court should determine that portions be argued secretly or submitted secretly in writing. A public explanation should explain that decision as well, the motion said.
The news organizations said the government would file an objection to the media motion, while Moussaoui’s court-appointed lawyers would not object. Moussaoui, who serves as his own lawyer while the attorneys represent his interests, also can file a response.
Moussaoui, the only person in the United States charged as a conspirator with the Sept. 11, 2001, attackers, could face the death penalty if convicted of conspiring to commit a terrorist act.
The media companies called the trial secrecy unprecedented, contending the public’s 1st Amendment right to openness remains in effect “even in times of war and national unrest.”
Nor, the motion said, does the right disappear when classified information may be used in a case.
Last week, news organizations asked the trial judge, Leonie Brinkema, to make public court papers in the case that she has kept secret for months. She has not yet ruled, but in an unrelated order she questioned whether Moussaoui could be tried in a civilian court when vital information was kept from him.
In the ruling that led to the government’s appeal, Brinkema said Moussaoui should have access to Ramzi Binalshibh, suspected as a coordinator of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The judge Friday unsealed three of Moussaoui’s previously filed motions, including his demand for access to another Al Qaeda prisoner, alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The motion indicated the judge has not granted the access.
Moussaoui contends the two men can testify he was not part of the Sept. 11 plot.
The motion was filed by ABC, Associated Press, CNN, CBS, the Hearst Corp., NBC, the New York Times, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Star Tribune Co., Tribune Co. -- which owns the Los Angeles Times -- and the Washington Post.