Our Fair City

Denver is such a world-class town that even terrorists want to visit!

"In the name of Allah," begins the handwritten pleading filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on April 26, "I, slave of Allah, Zacarias Moussaoui, by self representation for every rational vital reasons set in the memorandum accompanying this motion, move for immediate order directing that my case should be moved to a 'more neutral' location."

A more neutral location, he suggests, "such as Denver Colorado."

You just can't buy publicity like that -- not that this image-crazed town hasn't tried, and doesn't continue to try with increasing desperation as Colorado's fires cut into summer tourism.

Oh, we're hot, all right. So hot that the so-called "twentieth terrorist," the only person yet charged in connection with the events of September 11, wants to move his upcoming trial from Alexandria, Virginia, to Denver. Let's see what the Colorado Tourism Board can do with that!

Much of the case against Moussaoui, who was arrested in Minnesota last August for immigration violations and only later tied to the hijackers, remains under seal for national security reasons. His motion for a change of venue was released just last week, almost two months after its filing, and the uncensored, 29-page document is full of reasons why Moussaoui believes he can't get a fair trial in Virginia.

The sort of fair trial he could get here.

"It is well-known that Denver Colorado is recognized in the general public as a safe secure location (the presence of the highest maximum security jail in the U.S. makes it difficult for the government to argue otherwise)," he claims. "And no doubt that the high altitude and the fresh air will bring back some sense of security (maybe?)."

While Moussaoui may be the last person on the planet to hear what the wildfires have done to our fresh air, he knows all about U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, the federal prison outside Florence known as ADX, which at one point in time held not only Timothy McVeigh, but also Ted Kaczynski and the original World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Yousef.

And short of finding an actual jury of his peers -- "I am sure that the government will be delighted to bring 12 Talibans from Cuba!" Moussaoui sneers -- moving the trial is his only option. "It is beyond dispute for sound minded people (whatever their religion) that the constitutional standard of fairness requires that a defendant have a panel of impartial, indifferent jurors," Moussaoui argues. In an area like Alexandria, Virginia, just south of the Pentagon, finding such impartial jurors would be impossible. Moving the trial to Denver would lend "a greater feeling of personnal safety for the Jury and therefore reduce slightly the level of hostility and increase the ability to make rational decisions for the Jury."

The fact that one of the planes struck so close to Alexandria on September 11 is just part of the problem, he says. There's also the fact that Virginia has "probably the highest % of government employees in the U.S."

We may not be number one -- but Denver, as any city booster will tell you, boasts the second-highest percentage of federal employees in the U.S. In fact, in the wake of the attacks, one of those boosters fretted that Denver might be the terrorists' next target for precisely that reason -- that, and the kind of coverage they'd get if they happened to hit the first official game at the brand-spanking-new Invesco Field at Mile High.

It's not as though that's a novel idea: In Tom Clancy's 1991 thriller The Sum of All Fears, Muslim terrorists detonated a nuclear bomb just outside of Denver's football stadium -- while the Super Bowl was being played inside. (This was before Paramount updated the plot for this summer's youth-loving movie market, moving the action to Baltimore, making the baddies neo-Nazi terrorists and dropping the hero's age by a couple of decades so that he could be played by Ben Affleck.)

Terrorists can read, points out Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney for Denver, just as they can use the Web. (Moussaoui's entire motion, messy penmanship and all, is posted on the court's site, at www.vaed.uscourts.gov.) "Is he stupid, or is this calculated code?" Silverman asks. "Why would he say it's well-recognized that Denver is a safe and secure place? Why would he reference the maximum-security prison in Florence? Why say that there are not many federal employees, when in fact we have lots? Is that just because he's ignorant?"

In other words, is Moussaoui's motion a boon for tourism -- or terrorism?

Moussaoui, who was granted the right to defend himself earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema -- the same judge he's warned that "the curse of Allah is and will be upon you" -- doesn't offer many clues, since his motion moves quickly from rationale to rant. This "American show trial" was already moved from New York to ensure that he would get the death penalty, he charges, and "their endorsement of this location without any challenge to the government is a flagrant proof of their motivation to keep the case for financial and publicity reason and show the highest level of hypocrisy to my welfare." But since the government has also depicted the "alleged crime" as "spreading all over the U.S.," there's ample reason to move it to any venue in this country. "The example of Timothy McVeigh should cut any hypocritical argument," he adds. After all, Colorado jurors didn't hesitate to put the Oklahoma City bomber to death.

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