Thursday, July 25, 2002

From the Homeland Frontlines

From the Homeland Frontlines
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
July 25, 2002

This morning my wife awakened me with the statement that there were sharpshooters on our roof, to which I asked, “which direction are they facing?”

This was not Beirut. This was not Belfast either. This wasn’t even Jerusalem. No. When I awoke this overcast Thursday, July 25, I was in Alexandria, directly across the street from the federal courthouse where the John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui, 34, terror hearings have been held and will continue to be held, despite the repeated protests by Carlyle Towers’ residents.

Making the most of the opportunity, I shot a half roll of photos of the sharpshooters from the recreation deck of my condo – even after being approached by an Alexandria police officer. Now, I’m a firm believer in respect for the men and women in blue – that’s just how I was raised, but I was on private property taking pictures of easily identifiable people in uniform in a public venue. And that is what I told the officer when he asked what I was doing. I got no argument from the officer, instead we engaged in conversation for several minutes, discussing the hearing to commence later that afternoon and the veracity of a potential trial.

This is a trial that should not be held at this particular courthouse in the first place. For one, the setbacks do not meet the zoning requirements. The City Council of Alexandria emerged unresponsive to the pleas of local residents concerned about their safety. As an aside the City Council should be taken to task for acquiescing to the media by allowing them a trailer park for the trials and helping complicate the lives of the residents – residents that put the City Council in office and hopefully will be defeated by candidates putting the citizenry ahead of potential city financial gains.

However, and this is important to note here, that once it became apparent that the courthouse would be the trial venue, residents called for, and received additional security – thus the sharpshooters. It was vital to include Carlyle within the perimeter. But there is a cost for such increased security. Residents cannot park on the street in front their buildings. The street can potentially be shut down to allow for the safe transport of terrorist defendants. A Carlyle shuttle bus is unable to complete its rounds in serving the residents here – an inconvenience to people trying to get to the metro in order to get to work. These are people who utilize the metro in order to not have to add to the traffic that already plagues this region. Also inconvenienced are the elderly who are unable to walk the distance to the metro without the shuttle.

Jamieson Avenue
is being torn up for the benefit of the media circus, causing residents further inconvenience. Hordes of media from the alphabet networks to the cable outlets such as Court TV, to out of towners such as the Hartford Courant and members of the press from France have descended upon Carlyle. They have clogged our streets, attempted to enter our condos and left coffee cups and cigarette butts as the reminder of their presence. Ultimately residents of Carlyle will suffer in the depreciation of their property values.

On the other hand, two Mondays ago Greta Van Susteren from Fox News Channel conducted her show “On the Record” in front of the courthouse. I know this as I was watching her program from my home. About halfway through the program as she went to commercial, Van Susteren announced that recently expelled Congressman James “Jim” Traficant (D-OH) would be her next guest. Interested, I went outside to watch the proceedings live. After the program I introduced myself to the news reporter and newsmaker as a viewer and across the street resident, and the pair couldn’t have been nicer.

Going to Court

At 11:30 a.m. I joined the assembled masses, media, residents, attorneys and law students alike in the lobby of the federal courthouse mere steps from my residence. Upon entering the courthouse identification became necessary and all belongings were to be placed on an airport-like conveyer belt for scanning. Guards scanned each person with wands prior to allowing us to retrieve our scanned belongings.

No electronic devices allowed. A cell phone rang and a member of the French media was shouted out of the courthouse by a guard – and rightfully so.

Up to the seventh floor for the Moussaoui hearing. Exiting the elevator, groups of 10 at a time were allowed to proceed for the next round of presenting identification and conveyer belting belongings. Then into the courtroom to wait until the hearing began at 1 p.m. Prior to the beginning of the hearing I allowed a reporter from the Hartford (CT) Courant to interview me as a local resident.

All rise for her honor Leonie Brinkema.

The prisoner, a French citizen of Moroccan descent is ushered in and called to the lectern where he said he needed no extra time nor had any desire to change his original plea of guilty made a week prior.

A professor Reza from New York University Law School met with Moussaoui for roughly 20 minutes. He answered Brinkema’s questions the same way, “I have
no representations to make regarding Mr. Moussaoui.”

The defendant’s mother sent a letter saying, in French, not to let her son plead guilty without the services of council – council Moussaoui has continued to reject at every turn. At the end of the July 25 hearing, however, Moussaoui said he would utilize court appointed attorneys only to find witnesses to defend himself.

It came as little surprise that Moussaoui recanted his initial guilty plea. “Because of my obligation to my creator Allah and to save and defend my life, I withdraw my guilty plea,” he said.

But Moussaoui rambled, initially saying that “the fact that I will enter a guilty plea will help my case with the jury. I want the people to hear why I came to the US, what I did here. I want to talk to those 12 people who are my enemy. In the name of Allah I will tell the truth to the best of my ability.”

Six Counts to Oblivion

At the outset, Moussaoui decided he would plead guilty to counts one through four, but not guilty to counts five and six.

Count One: Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Count Two: Conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy.

Count Three: Conspiracy to destroy aircraft.

Count Four: Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Count Five: Conspiracy to murder US employees.

Count Six: Conspiracy to destroy property.

Each count exposes the defendant to a sentence of death if a death resulted from the conspiracy, explained Brinkema, adding that the US government has alleged death. Other possible penalties, per count, included life imprisonment, up to 20 years in prison followed by a five year supervised release requiring the defendant to remain in the US.

Regarding potential supervised release, Moussaoui queried, “I would have to look for a job?” to a room full of muffled laughter.

“The maximum penalty can be death,” said Brinkema.

“I am not concerned about this,” said Moussaoui just prior to asking for a 15-minute recess to contemplate a guilty plea regarding Count Number Two.

Upon returning from the break, Moussaoui uttered a barely audible praise to “the prophet Mohammad,” before reminding people that “we’re here today because I want to plead guilty. I cannot endorse any matter that will lead to my death, according to Islam. I must withdraw my guilty plea.”

”That’s not an unwise decision,” said Brinkema. “You clearly are not admitting guilt. You have a right to go before a jury,” she said.

Brinkema seems to have bent over backwards to ensure Moussaoui’s rights are not violated in an effort that an appeal not come back to haunt either her or the nation as a whole.

“I want to put my story forward. I have a change of tactic. Ask the French consular and French government to assign Mr. Freeman to be my counselor,” said Moussaoui of the Houston resident not admitted to the Virginia Bar. “I will talk with Mr. Reza,” he added.

The trial is expected to begin on Sept. 30.

Following the adjournment for the day, at just after , reporters, both print and electronic alike, stampeded in droves for the elevators, as the stairs in the courthouse were blocked from use.

Once outside and in front of the courthouse, six members of the Black Panthers gathered at a central microphone to remind media and other onlookers that there are, in their opinion, other forms of terrorism in the United States such as corporate terrorism, police terrorism and domestic terrorism.

Later in the afternoon, around Moussaoui’s mother, with translator in tow, took to the microphone to defend her son, claiming he had nothing to do with Sept. 11.

Prior to returning home I spoke briefly with representatives of the Bloomberg news outfit and the local CBS affiliate channel nine. If Court TV or some other network has the right to broadcast the upcoming trial, I plan to watch from home when time allows.

As a local resident I want the trial and potential sentencing hearing over and done with as expediently as possible. As an American I want justice served – justice for the families of the 2,823 killed and missing victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.

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