A federal judge presiding over the trial of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui says she has misgivings about allowing television cameras in the court.
We can understand misgivings, especially in federal court. While cameras have been a fixture in many state court systems for years, they have not been welcome in federal courthouses.
Still, we hope U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of Alexandria, Va., can see past her misgivings and open her courtroom to the world.
Moussaoui is the first person to actually be charged in connection with the September 11 conspiracy. Moussaoui, a French citizen, said through his lawyers that he has no objection to televising the trial. The objections are being raised by U.S. prosecutors.
Judge Brinkema noted that broadcasting the trial and its preservation on videotape "forever" could have a chilling effect on witnesses. Court TV and C-SPAN have said that there are established ways of masking the identity of witnesses while they are giving testimony or the judge could terminate transmission of selected parts of the trial.
What world would see: We believe that opening the trial to the world would provide an important statement on the quality of justice afforded to criminal defendants in the United States. Let the world contrast our system with any other. Let it see that even a man accused of the most horrendous acts of terrorism ever perpetrated on American soil was given competent legal representation and a fair, open trial.
Public trials have been a part of our national heritage for more than 200 years. Television has been around now for about a fourth of that time.
Televison has recorded most of the worst and best that has happened in the last 50 years. Assasinations, space travel, war, inaugurations -- all are now part of television's archives. One of the greatest gaps in modern history remains what happens in our federal courts.
It is time that two American institutions learned to live together.