Moussaoui judge OK's public playing of 9/11 cockpit tape
Prosecutors seek to have it sealed after court airing
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The cockpit recorder tape from the jetliner that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, will be played in public for the first time -- to the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing jury -- the judge in the case ruled yesterday.
US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said the jury considering whether to execute Moussaoui could hear the recording from United Airlines Flight 93 and see a transcript of it.
This cockpit tape has been played privately for the families of Flight 93 victims but not in public.
Prosecutors asked the judge to order the tape sealed and to keep the transcript from the general public after it is played in open court, but she made no immediate ruling on that.
Noting that the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ordered that trial evidence be made public, she said relatives of Flight 93 victims would have until Tuesday to advise her whether they object to the general release of the material.
She said that if no family members object, she will release the material to the general public the day after it is submitted into evidence. No date was set for that.
The sentencing trial of the 37-year-old Frenchman is to resume this morning after the jury in the first phase unanimously found him eligible for the death penalty on counts of conspiracy to commit international terrorism, to commit air piracy, and to use weapons of mass destruction.
This second phase will examine aggravating and mitigating evidence about his crimes, and the jury will decide whether he will be executed or imprisoned for life for his role in the attacks.
In an order describing yesterday's closed hearing, Brinkema said the government's reason for wanting to keep the tape and the transcript sealed from general release was ''to protect the National Traffic Safety Board against premature public speculation regarding the cause of any airline crash, so it may 'conduct a full and fair investigation.' "
Brinkema said prosecutors acknowledged in court that this reason ''is not implicated in this sentencing proceeding."
Much of what happened aboard Flight 93, including an effort by passengers to retake the plane from Al Qaeda hijackers, is known because of the use of cellphones in flight by passengers and flight attendants.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutor David Raskin transfixed the jury by reading an account of the last moments of the flight based on the cellphone calls by two flight attendants from the plane to ground controllers.
The transcripts of the flight attendants' calls were excerpted in the Sept. 11 Commission report. Also public are parts of the cellphone calls made by some passengers. A Hollywood movie reenacting the flight is to be released later this month.
Discussing general public release of the tape and transcript, Brinkema wrote, ''The court is also mindful that family members of the flight crew or passengers on Flight 93 may object to the voices of their loved ones being publicly revealed in this manner."
Prosecutors began calling relatives of the victims yesterday afternoon to advise them of the judge's decision.
Even if no family member objects, the date of general public release remained uncertain.
Prosecutors have not disclosed when they plan to present the material to the jury.