Our Fair City

"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.

On Monday, the government filed its response to Moussaoui's request for a change of venue -- and while it doesn't read like a ringing endorsement for this city's clear skies and clear heads, it also appears that Denver won't be getting another show trial anytime soon. (Too bad: If the just-departed Lion King poured at least $40 million into this city's economy -- not including $13 million in ticket sales -- as more of those city boosters suggest, just imagine what a bonanza we'd mine from another months-long trial that attracted all those big-spending national press types.)

Moussaoui's motion offers two reasons to change venues: the "personal safety for the jury" argument and the need to avoid a jury pool with an "over representation of loyal government employees," prosecutors note. In response, they offer a slew of arguments why "neither reason is sufficient to support a change of venue" -- although not one of those arguments mentions that a Colorado jury pool would have plenty of federal-worker "over representation," too.

As for Moussaoui's focus on a "neutral" venue such as this city, and only this city: "Defendant's reasons for requesting a change of venue to Denver only elliptically suggest that the jury pool in Denver would be more fair to him," the prosecutors say. They identify Moussaoui's five arguments offered in Denver's favor: its proximity to Florence, hence "the feeling of personal safety"; the "high altitude and fresh air"; the fact that "Denver is not the scene of a recent government or American attack (New York, Oklahoma, etc.)"; the rationale that "a judge in Colorado might feel less afraid, more confident and less pressurized than a judge in the Rocket Docket" (that's the name given the U.S. District Court in this part of Virginia, which is known for its speedy trials); and the fact that McVeigh was granted a change of venue to Denver.

"That case, however, was patently different from this one," the prosecutors respond. "When the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, that District was uniquely and extraordinarily affected by the defendants' conduct, which led the judge in that case to note that it was perceived as an Oklahoma tragedy and to find 'that there is such a great prejudice against these two defendants in the State of Oklahoma that they cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial at any place fixed by law for holding court in that state.'"

The September 11 attacks, on the other hand, "are viewed as a national tragedy affecting the entire nation," the prosecutors say. "Moreover, every community in the United States has been directly affected by the security measures instituted since the attacks."

On Tuesday, Judge Brinkema entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Moussaoui at his rearraignment on a revised indictment in connection with those attacks. "I do not accept this plea of not guilty," he told the courtroom. "I have no plea. I will plead no contest. I have nothing to say to the United States. That's all."

For now, folks.


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