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Terrorism cases in civilian courts

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From the Winter 2010 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 4. United States v. Moussaoui Zarcharias Moussaoui…

From the Winter 2010 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 4.

United States v. Moussaoui

Zarcharias Moussaoui is a French national arrested for his involvement in 9/11. He represented himself on six felony charges and his trial in Virginia became infamous for outlandish pleadings and statements. Moussaoui was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences. Given the nature and timeliness of the case, the district court took extra measures to make the case accessible to the public.

Tom Jackman covered the case for The Washington Post.

“Being at the courthouse everyday, I always felt like I would have an advantage because I could get all the files, but this put everyone on an even playing field,” Jackman said of an online document repository first hosted by The Reporters Committee and then by the court.

United States vs. John Walker Lindh

California native John Walker Lindh was captured with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in December 2001. He was charged in federal court with conspiring to kill Americans outside of the United States and providing material support to a terrorist organization. The case ended in before it went to trial when Lindh accepted a 20-year sentence after pleading guilty to joining the Taliban and carrying explosives in 2002.

Matthew Barakat covered the case for The Associated Press.

“There were definitely hearings in the Lindh case where it was a cattle call and whoever could get in first could get in,” he said. “In D.C., they make an extra effort to accommodate the media. In Alexandria, they’re more cavalier about it.”

United States. v. Hassoun, et al.

Jose Padilla was arrested in 2002 and was the first U.S. citizen to be classified as an enemy combatant. Padilla was held for three-and-a-half years. In 2007, he was tried in a U.S. Court of Appeals in Miami (11th Cir.) and sentenced to 17 years in prison for conspiring to aid terrorists and murder.

Jay Weaver covered the case for The Miami Herald.

“The most significant documents that were not allowed were from the Defense Department,” Weaver said of the 10,000 recordings that were kept out of trial. “It is the way the government deals with this stuff — it’s hard for the defense and prosecution, let alone the media.”

United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of 9/11, was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and is currently at Guantanamo Bay awaiting trial. At press time, it seemed unlikely the trial would take place in downtown Manhattan, as was first suggested, and a military commission had not been definitively ruled out. Mohammed and four other detainees asked to confess to their roles in the attack during a closed meeting in December 2008.

William Glaberson covered the proceedings for The New York Times.

“There is not a more difficult experience I’ve ever had in journalism obtaining information,” he said. “[That included] where the courts would meet, who the players were, you name it. I would say that 85 percent of it is out of public view.”

United States v. Nidal Malik Hasan

Nidal Malik Hasan is an Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 during a shooting spree last November. There will be a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for a court martial. Before the shooting, he was said to have grown increasingly vocal against the war and was upset by his impending deployment to Afghanistan.

Scott Shane covered the case for The New York Times.

“There was a bit of an order from the Army not to talk about his case, so it was hard to get his colleagues to talk about their recollections of him,” he said, adding that some sources spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There’re still a lot of things about this case that remain secret. It’s often the case that you have to wait until trial [to hear some of the facts] because they don’t want that information out yet.”

United States v. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of attempting to detonate a bomb on a plane bound for Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. He has confessed to having been trained by al-Qaida in Yemen and is reportedly cooperating with interrogators at a federal prison in Milan, Mich.

Todd Spangler is covering the case for the Detroit Free Press.

“Information regarding Abdulmutallab’s capture, interrogation and subsequent meetings with investigators and prosecutors has been doled out selectively, with the clear intent being to defend against claims that he should have been put before a military tribunal,” Spangler said. “In other words, the mea culpas we’ve gotten have been sketchy at best, riddled with holes. More information would allow us to do our jobs to make sure those holes get filled.”