Wolf revives bid to televise terror trial

WASHINGTON — A proposal to enable thousands of Sept. 11 victims and family members to watch the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui via closed-circuit broadcast got new life Wednesday.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-10th District, had the provision inserted into a $30 billion emergency spending bill that was passed by the House Appropriations Committee.

Wolf is an appropriations subcommittee chairman, among a group of elite given the nickname “cardinals.”

The proposal is aimed at allowing surviving victims of the terrorist attacks and victims families to watch Moussaouis trial, scheduled for autumn, without the expense and inconvenience of traveling to U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Prosecutors and the FBI suspect that Moussaoui was a would-be 20th hijacker and was supposed to be aboard the United Airlines flight that crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa.

He was in federal custody on Sept. 11, having been detained on immigration violations in August after his activities at a Minnesota flight school raised suspicions.

At a court proceeding last month, Moussaoui told the judge he was praying “for the destruction of the United States” and “the destruction of the Jewish state.”

Wolf was aiding Sen. George F. Allen, R-Va., who won speedy approval for the proposal in the Senate last year, and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, R-11th District, who introduced it in the House, only to see it stalled in the Judiciary Committee.

“I think a majority of the House” will be supportive when the spending bill comes up on the floor for a vote, Allen said.

He had talked earlier to House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and figured the legislation was stuck in Sensenbrenners committee, Allen added. After talking with Davis and Wolf, a plan was developed to skirt Sensenbrenners panel.

It would not be the first time that Congress directed a closed-circuit broadcast of criminal proceedings from an act of terrorism.

Both Allens bill and a companion measure introduced in the House by Davis were modeled on legislation that allowed closed-circuit televising of criminal proceedings in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.

“The courtroom in Alexandria can fit only about 80 spectators. Officials estimate that there are 10,000 to 15,000 victims and families of the crimes for which Moussaoui is charged. Giving them the chance to witness this proceeding is simply the right thing to do,” Davis said.

The measure doesnt trample on the separation of legislative and judicial branches because it deals in a narrow fashion with a court administrative matter, said congressional aides to one of the sponsors.

Moussaoui faces terrorism conspiracy charges that could bring the death penalty.

The emergency spending bill was drafted to bolster the war on terrorism and increase homeland security.

The bill includes $52.6 million for “public diplomacy” initiatives, according to Wolf, who has pushed for a greater emphasis on promoting U.S. policies, culture and values overseas.

Peter Hardin is a Washington correspondent for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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