ALEXANDRIA, Va.. The government says numerous sealed documents in the case of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui can be made public, agreeing in part with media organizations, but it draws the line at classified material even if the contents were disclosed in news articles.
Some records related to foreign governments also must be kept from the public, the government argued yesterday.
The written pleading responded to a motion this month from seven news organizations, including the Associated Press, that sought public release of court records.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has kept the majority of government and defense pleadings secret in recent months, partly to protect national security information.
“Contrary to the representations of the media ... in this circuit there is no First Amendment right of access to the entire record in a criminal case,” the government said.
The prosecutors painstakingly listed individual records that they believe could be released by Brinkema.
The judge has sealed government documents that were identified by prosecutors as classified or sensitive records, and has ordered secrecy for Moussaoui filings that the government cited as possibly including secret messages to al-Qaida.
Brinkema also has made her own determinations to seal all or parts of Moussaoui motions that included “insulting, threatening or inflammatory language which would not be tolerated from any attorney practicing in this court.”
She has not yet ruled on the news organizations’ request, but she released three of Moussaoui’s motions earlier this month, and has questioned in an unrelated order whether he could be tried in a civilian court when vital information was kept from him.
Moussaoui is representing himself and files frequent, handwritten motions that take aim at the judge, prosecutors and a defense team appointed by the court to represent his legal interests. Charged as a Sept. 11 conspirator, Moussaoui acknowledges his loyalty to al-Qaida but insists he was not part of the plot to attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The prosecutors argued there was no First Amendment right of access to classified documents or classified pleadings, and rejected media arguments that some of the documents have been disclosed in news reports.
Federal law provides that classified information should not be declassified automatically because of an unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information.
A number of documents could be unsealed after consultation with a foreign government, but others must be kept secret because they “disclose confidential, sensitive details regarding the foreign relations of the United States,” the government said.
Some documents, if made public, “could damage not only the relations between the United States and another country but would threaten the ability of the United States government to secure the assistance of their counterparts ... in the global war on terrorism,” prosecutors said.
Media organizations also have filed a separate motion to open arguments and pleadings concerning matters in the case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.