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Judge closes supression hearing at embassy bombing trial

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Secret Courts         Jan 23, 2001    

Judge closes supression hearing at embassy bombing trial

  • Citing concerns over national and witness security and trial fairness, a judge ruled a suppression hearing closed to the media and the public.

A U.S. district court judge ruled Jan. 19 to hold a closed-door hearing that will decide whether to suppress a statement made by a defendant in the East African U.S. embassy bombings case.

“The consequences of inadvertent disclosure in this case are real and are grave not only in terms of potential impact on the fairness of the future trial but, potentially, national security,” said Judge Leonard B. Sand of the federal district court in Manhattan.

Neither the media nor the public can attend the hearing held to decide whether to admit the alleged confession of Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-‘Owhali of involvement in the attack of several American embassies on Aug. 7, 1998. The bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded more than 5,000 others. Defense lawyers argued that al-‘Owhali was not properly advised of his rights at the time of the confession, was denied a lawyer and was threatened by an FBI agent.

Sand said a transcript of each day’s proceedings, which are set to begin Jan. 23, will be provided the next morning. The government and the defense will have a chance to delete material that pertains to the safety of witnesses or to the substance of al-‘Owhali’s statements before the transcripts are released.

Adam Liptak, senior counsel for The New York Times, said such a broad closure over concerns about possible disclosure of limited portions runs contrary to what the First Amendment requires.

Sand said he was trying to balance the rights of the parties involved with the public’s right to know. “The First Amendment is not an absolute,” he said. “I don’t lightly take any steps that would suggest an impingement on First Amendment rights.”

Both the prosecution and the defense favored closing the hearings.

Sand originally ruled to suppress the confession after a hearing held in December, but the government appealed the decision. The earlier hearing remained open under the condition that the substance of al-‘Owhali’s statement not be referred to, only the circumstances of how it was obtained.

(United States v. al-‘Owhali) EH


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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