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Should Moussaoui's Trail Be Televised?; Is Compensation to 9-11 Victims' Families Adequate?

Aired January 2, 2002 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Zacarias Moussaoui was in court today, but you couldn't see it. Should you? Should his trial be televised?

And victims of September 11 will on average get more than $1 million each from the federal government. Is that too much? Should they get anything at all?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, attorney Richard Bernstein, and in New York, Catherine Crier of Court TV. And later, Anthony Gardner, founder of the World Trade Center United Family Group, and Thomas Connor, son of a terrorist victim.

PRESS: Good evening, happy new year, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. The man believed to be the 20th hijacker, had he not been arrested first, went to court today. The government charges Zacarias Moussaoui with six counts of conspiracy to commit air piracy and murder last September 11. He says he's not guilty. The trial doesn't start until October 15, but the big question already is: Will we get to see it? Court TV has asked permission to broadcast it all, from gavel to gavel. After all, since all Americans suffered, shouldn't all Americans get to watch the trial? The judge will decide that. We'll debate it tonight.

There's also a big controversy over whether federal tax dollars should be used to reimburse the families of victims of 9/11. We'll debate that, too. But first, the Moussaoui trial. In the words of Hamlet, TV or not TV? That is the question -- Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Catherine Crier, former Judge Catherine Crier, welcome. Good evening. Thanks for coming to CROSSFIRE.

CATHERINE CRIER, COURT TV: Hello, Tucker. Hi, Bill.

PRESS: Hi, Catherine.

CARLSON: I understand and I fully sympathize with your position on this. Both of us work in television, both of us recognize this trial would bring high ratings.

CRIER: We need this trial, Tucker. Yes. CARLSON: We certainly do, and if we could pass a law requiring all newsworthy figures in politics to do CROSSFIRE at our whim, I would support it. But I'm not sure it will be the best thing for America, and I hope you're willing to admit that televising this trial wouldn't be the best thing for America, though it would help our industry, that is television.

CRIER: No, actually, I'm not willing to admit. First thing, Court TV wouldn't like to hear that, but the truth is, in fact, we should have been televising these trials all along. Back in 1993, we should have televised the World Trade Center case. We should have following Ramzi Yousef to the public's -- in the public's mind.

If Bill Clinton had been listening to the public's concerns about terrorism back in '93, we might not have been in this circumstance. But in fact, this was not up on the radar, and televised trials is one way to expose this.

CARLSON: Well, I agree with you he had other things on his mind during his presidency, but don't you think...

CRIER: Unfortunately.

CARLSON: Yes, it was unfortunate, but wouldn't this offer -- this is a perfect venue -- in fact, this is just the venue someone like Moussaoui or other accused terrorist would want in order to spew their propaganda using this, as you know, real powerful medium of television. Why offer him that platform?

CRIER: We're talking about spewing propaganda. The only way he's going to do that is if in fact he takes the stand, and I'm sure the prosecutors would absolutely love him to take the stand, but in a federal court of all places you have judges who hold everyone to a very strict behavior. You would see the kind of trial that I would like the public to realize is going on day in and day out across this country. It rarely looks like O.J. And in fact, more often looks like the kind of case we'd see out of this court.

Also, do you remember the Amadou Diallo case? They're in New York, the judge said, "I don't care what other judges are doing, I don't care New York's calling this unconstitutional, I'm going to allow the cameras in the courtroom." At the end of the trial, you had everyone from Al Sharpton to Rudy Giuliani saying, whether we agreed with the verdict, this was fair, it was important that we see this. I think we'd get the same reaction in this case.

PRESS: Mr. Bernstein, first of all, I'm just always amazed at how often people find opportunity to blame Bill Clinton for everything.


PRESS: But moving right along, the federal legislation, there's this federal legislation that's passed now that says that the families of the victims of 9/11, both in Washington and New York City, will be allowed to watch this trial under closed circuit television. But surely, this was an attack not just against those families, but an attack, as we've said so many times, against all Americans. So why shouldn't all Americans get to watch the trial of the only man so far who is accused of that crime?

BERNSTEIN: This is a terrible idea. The question in all of these is what is going to make another terrorist attack more likely or less likely. We do not want this trial to be turned into an al Qaeda video recruiting tape. And these people have incentives to do this and they have disincentives to do this, and getting on worldwide TV is a great incentive -- not for bin Laden, he's going to do this whether it's on TV or not, but for the people who follow him -- we all want the fate of people who are captured to be swift punishment, not show trials.

PRESS: But you know, I think that's total bunk. It's the same baloney we heard out of the White House when the first Osama bin Laden tape came out, and they said, "no, no, no, we can't show him on television." You see it as a negative. Don't you see this as an opportunity for us to show the world America at its best, number one; and number two, to show the evidence of why what we are doing is the right thing because this guy and others committed these attacks against this country?

BERNSTEIN: Well, obviously it's going to be a public trial, and the world is going to see...

PRESS: No it's not, not on television.

BERNSTEIN: But the McVeigh trial wasn't on television, and it was a public trial. You'll have reporters there, you'll have daily reports, he will have artists renderings. What you won't have is defendants, or -- particularly if they represent themselves -- making speeches to the camera as part as recruiting for al Qaeda.

CARLSON: Catherine Crier, what about that?


CRIER: Yeah, because, Tucker, you're not going to have a federal judge in this country who is going to allow Moussaoui or anyone else to make speeches. A courtroom is a place...

BERNSTEIN: What if Moussaoui wants to put on a defense that Mossad really did this? What federal judge is going to say that Moussaoui can't put on that defense? And Al Jazeera will put that on every day?

CRIER: Any federal judge, counselor, as you know darned well, can only put on a defense if you bring forth the evidence that crosses the threshold of reasonableness for that court. They're not going to allow you to say little green men on the Moon came down and committed some sort of murder. By analogy, you cannot put forth a defense when you have no credible evidence to support that defense.

BERNSTEIN: Well, I agree with that, but he's going put forth some defense, or he's going to put forth some justification... CRIER: He may or may not.

BERNSTEIN: ... and think of it from the mind of the terrorist. If you're considering these people are often motivated by grandiose fantasies, if you're considering whether to join one of these organizations, do you want your fate to be in private and with the world not watching, or do you want your fate to be on international TV where you get the spotlight? I think that question answers itself.

CRIER: Number one, I don't want one potential terrorist out there to rewrite our constitution, which provides for open courtrooms.

BERNSTEIN: There is no constitutional argument that TV is necessary.

CRIER: They were to be public -- they were to be public -- wait a minute -- no -- no -- they were to be public to avoid the star chamber, but as the judge in the Diallo case said, the only difference is technology has now created a way for more people to participate rather than sitting in the back of the courtroom. Technology has simply changed the viewership. It has not changed the character of an open courtroom.

BERNSTEIN: But there was no risk in the Diallo case that other like-minded people would try and imitate or copy or support...

CRIER: Concern about rioting! They were concerned about rioting.

BERNSTEIN: ... the behavior of the defendants.

CRIER: Public rioting in Brooklyn.

BERNSTEIN: There was not a concern about other similar criminal conspiracies following on the publicity.

CRIER: I don't buy the hypothetical.

CARLSON: But Catherine Crier, wait. For one thing, I mean, no matter whether television is allowed in this courtroom or not, interested people can find out every word uttered publicly in court. They can get the transcript. It will be covered by newspapers. It will be covered by CNN, but with pictures, and you seem to be ignoring the fact that television is an negotiable medium and that it's powerful for that reason, and that for that reason also it's a wonderful propaganda tool, is it not?

CRIER: Well, I'm not ignoring that fact, certainly it is, but again in a federal court, you're going to have a very different environment than for example Judge Ito's courtroom -- and I'm sorry, Judge Ito, but you really made a mess out of that one. But no, but in fact you've got a situation where television is simply an extended medium, and you cannot I don't think make the kind of distinction you're trying to make, where print journalism is fine, pictures, still pictures, are fine, but for some reason a more immediate medium is not. CARLSON: But let me ask you this question then: Why is it that television is not allowed in the Supreme Court and that Supreme Court justices on the right, on the left -- David Souter has said, "over his dead body will cameras come into the court." I wonder why they're so opposed to it. Is that they're trying to close the proceedings, or they know something that we don't?

CRIER: Well, there are two reasons. One, and justices have said that along with Souter when he said "over my dead body" -- they don't want to be recognized on the street, they don't want to become public figures, because for the most part they are not. And number two, it does take away a bit of the magic show. There's an aura and prestige around the court that might be diminished to some extent if our cameras were there.

PRESS: And let's be honest, Mr. Bernstein, you're against cameras in any courtroom, aren't you?

BERNSTEIN: No, I'm not. I think cameras as a general matter are pretty good in appellate courts. I'm pretty much opposed to it in trial courts, but in appellate courts I think they help. I think it helped (UNINTELLIGIBLE) last year to see, quite frankly, how foolish the Florida Supreme Court looked from time to time in the Bush-Gore matter.

PRESS: Well, all right. Then let's take this. Why not -- in this important case, maybe the most case certainly involving terrorism in the history of this country, you know, why not let the world see it, why not let Americans see what it's all about? And I just want to add one thing, I mean, the argument that the cameras are intrusive is just baloney. I mean, technology today -- you don't even notice the cameras. We have cameras in 7/11, we've got them in the Senate, in the House, why not in a courtroom?


BERNSTEIN: I care whether there is one person out there 10 years from now, 20 years from now debating whether to join a terrorist organization...

PRESS: Mr. Bernstein...

BERNSTEIN: ... who has turned on by the fact that he saw Zacarias Moussaoui or somebody else on international TV.

PRESS: Can I suggest to you that the horse is already out of the barn, sir?

CRIER: Absolutely, absolutely.

CARLSON: So Catherine Crier, quickly, you don't think that a single person's mind could be convince to join a terrorist organization if this were televised?

CRIER: You are, number one, talking about...

BERNSTEIN: Are you willing to bet the lives of Americans on your surmise?

CRIER: Number one, you are creating a hypothetical that we don't know. Number two, television -- Al-Jazeera can do that without our help.

PRESS: Amen.

CRIER: And number three, the potential of this person 20 years hence, as your guest said, is enough to overturn our right to open access? Amazing.

BERNSTEIN: As the Supreme Court has said our right to open access is reporters at the trial, it's not television cameras at the trial.

CRIER: That was 1960. They need to review that one.

PRESS: That's right, update it.

CARLSON: All right. Mr. Bernstein, Judge Crier thank you both, very much.

And next, thousands died on September 11, do we owe them a payment as a result? It's a fiery debate, we'll take it up as we return to CROSSFIRE. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. How's this for an unfashionable position: victims of September 11 are getting too much money from the federal government. It's not a view you hear expressed every day, you may hear it more.

The families of those who died in the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center are about to receive millions of tax-free dollars from Congress. This in addition to millions upon millions more raised by private charities. Is it all too much? Is it unfair to victims of previous terror attacks, like Oklahoma City? That's our debate tonight.

Joining us, Anthony Gardner, who is the founder of the World Trade Center United Family Group. He lost a brother on September 11. And Thomas Connor, an investment banker whose father was killed by terrorists 27 years ago this month. Two lives touched by terrorism, two very different perspectives -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Mr. Connor, the first thing I read this morning was your editorial in the "Wall Street Journal," which I could not believe, as I read it and understand it, you point out that your father was the unfortunate victim of terrorism back in 1975, for which your family got nothing from the federal government. Therefore, you believe that the families of the victims of September 11 should get nothing. Isn't that rather stingy and selfish on your part, sir?

THOMAS CONNOR, SON OF TERROR VICTIM: No it's not selfish at all. I'm not looking at it from my perspective at all. I'm just looking at it from a perspective of an American who thinks that the federal government should not get involved in this situation. After September 11, I was never more proud to be an American. The whole country rallied around these victims, they've sent $1.5 billion dollars of charitable donations, they sent more blood than the Red Cross could use.

I believe that the victims should get every penny entitled to them from the charities. I just have a problem with the federal government getting involved, implicitly accepting blame for the attack which they did not commit, creating a situation where past victims are treated differently from -- than present victims and by setting a troubling precedent going forward.

PRESS: Well I've never been more proud to be American, either, sir, but there's another way of looking at this. Clearly, in terms of the numbers killed or the targets or the impact, this was different than any other terrorist attack. This was an attack on America, this was an attack on our government on the institutions of our government, as well as the symbols of our economy and it did affect us all. So than rather than taking blame, isn't this a way that we all pull together and show solidarity with the people who gave their lives on 9/11?

CONNOR: Well, it does set a troubling precedent if you do that.


CONNOR: Well, because I don't think that anyone would go along with the fact that terrorism is over in this country, so are we going to set up a situation where every future terrorist attack will be compensated by the federal government? Are we going to have a situation where every unexplained airliner that goes down becomes a hunt to find the terrorists so that we can attach the largest, the deepest pocket possible? This -- the United States government's deep pocket.

CARLSON: Mr. Gardner, that's an interesting -- Mr. Connor raises an interesting point, because of course the victim's compensation fund was set up, partly to convince the families not to sue the airlines and not to sue companies, who of course weren't responsible. And I wonder if this, well meaning as it is, this effort, doesn't turn the grieving families into almost an interest group lobbying Congress for more money. And maybe that detracts from the dignity of the situation.

GARDNER: Well, I think the compensation fund was obviously set up for several reasons, one of which was an airline bailout, a bailout for the airlines, as well as a compassionate move for the families. I mean, people could talk about, you know Tom could mention all the countless millions out there for families, regarding charitable contributions. But the fact is there's a lot of miscommunication out there, misinformation out there, there's a lot of families out there that haven't receive a penny of any sort of compensation...

CONNOR: Of course, that's a terrible situation and no one would ever think that... GARDNER: But the federal government, the previous victims of terrorists they basically -- with our, the families involved in this situation is there's a restriction on our ability to sue and litigate. And that is why we have this option of getting the monies from the federal government, because of that restriction.

CARLSON: But, Mr. Gardner, as far as I understand, there's no restriction on the families ability to sue those actually responsible. And I guess that's the question, here, is that compensation implies responsibility. Now the federal government's compensating the families the federal government is not responsible for the terrorists attacks, I wonder why the families don't go after those who were, bin Laden is apparently worth quite a bit of money. Why not try to seize...

GARDNER: Well, this -- this is a...


CARLSON: ... a little bit of that?

GARDNER: ... situation where -- will families ever recover a penny from Osama bin Laden? And I highly doubt it. I think that the government created this victims' compensation fund to provide an easy, expeditious way of securing some sort of funding for the families. And in something that they deserve, and President Bush obviously declared that a war and attack on our country, I think people need to acknowledge the fact that our loved ones are civilian casualties of war. And, you know, the federal government should -- I believe they're doing the right thing in offering this.

They just need to a lot of inadequacies and you can look at what the print media are saying about families in this sense of greed prevailing. It's not about greed at all, there's a lot of inadequacies with this federal compensation policy as it stands right now...

PRESS: Right...

GARDNER: And -- and that's exactly what I've been trying to get at; there is a lot of unfairness here, and much of its because people killed in Oklahoma City, by terrorists, who are every bit as committed to damaging the federal government as Osama bin Laden was. And they have received pretty much nothing and I think that that's an unfair situation. And I think that that's an unfair situation.

PRESS: Not to repeat a point, but I think you can distinguish the Oklahoma City bombing, as horrible as it was, from what happened on 9/11. Nothing, nothing has a had an impact like that has had on America and you know someone pointed out, we are talking about $6 billion here, a lot of money but, you know, in terms of the federal government and what we've done for other bailout bills it's small. And someone pointed out that's 21 dollars for every taxpayer.

Mr. Connor, I got to tell you here's one taxpayer -- you got my $21 bucks. I'm happy to give it. What's the beef here? Twenty-one bucks!

CONNOR: Hey. I've sent thousands of dollars in contributions personally into these funds. It's not about my money, it's about the principle. And it's about the United States government going along with an attitude prevalent in this country that there's always somebody else responsible, and in this case it's an unfortunate situation. But the responsible people were the terrorists. The responsible people were not the federal government and by making this fund they have implicitly accepted responsibility.

CARLSON: Mr. Gardner...


PRESS: Mr. Gardner, I'm want to follow up there. Are you suggesting that we are going -- realistically suggesting that we are going make the terrorists pay for this? I mean, that's like asking them to convert to Christianity, isn't it?

CARLSON: Not a bad idea.

CONNOR: Well, I'm not saying that the terrorists should -- that the terrorists necessarily should be paying for it. What I'm saying is that in this country, people who are responsible should be the people who pay for things. That's the principle that we live by.


GARDNER: ... government, though, is just simply showing their support for the families and trying to make things a little easier in terms of this horrible tragedy and ordeal that each family goes through. I don't believe that it's their way of taking blame for what has happened. I mean, they're just trying to do the best thing possible for the families and provide some sort of easy -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

CARLSON: No, I mean, I think all of us here would agree that there's no, you know, evil intent on the part of Congress in handing over this money. I do think, though, and Mr. Connor raised this, and it raises an interesting question about future terrorist attacks.

GARDNER: But it can be a positive.


GARDNER: But it could be a positive precedent to set, in that it's basically a parallel form of justice for victims. It's not anything negative. It's not the government assuming responsibility for these acts, it's the government supporting victims in the way that they support -- or that they provide a free trial -- a fair trial to criminals. I mean, it's...

CARLSON: OK. So if I hear you correctly, what you're saying is that all past victims of terrorism, going back to the SLA in the '70s and up through Lockerbie and the embassy bombings in Africa a couple of years ago, they don't deserve any compensation from the federal government, but from here on out, all victims of terrorism do?

GARDNER: I didn't say that. Those people should obviously be -- go to Congress, provide some sort of retroactive payment to them as well. I mean, I'm not saying from this day forward that should be the case. It's an opportunity to create that system now for then if, God forbid, in the future, future, you know, things like of this nature happen in the future -- but I think that Mr. Connor is just basically saying that not that -- that victims of terrorism aren't entitled to any compensation, but that all victims of terrorism are entitled. That was my take on the article -- his article in the "Wall Street Journal."

PRESS: Mr. Connor, we are just about out of time, Mr. Connor, but we are focusing on 9/11; we are not talking about every terrorist attack in the history of humankind. We're talking about 9/11. We gave $15 billion to the airline companies, $4 billion to Amtrak, $2 billion to American farmers for things like chicken manure, $6 billion to the families of these victims -- and you're not willing to do that, sir?

CONNOR: It's the principle. And obviously it's not a lot of money, $21 per American citizen isn't a lot of money. And I'd be happy to give more money than that, as I already have. But the point is that we are feeding into an attitude in this country where we have to find someone to blame, and some deep pocket to find.

PRESS: I hate to interrupt you there, but we are out of time. Thomas Connor, Anthony Gardner, thank you both very much for joining us from New York City.

And ladies and gentlemen, it's the first CROSSFIRE show of the new year. Therefore, indeed it's time for new year's resolutions. Tucker and I will have resolutions for everybody but ourselves coming up next.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Resolutions? Eat fewer cheeseburgers.



PRESS: Well, there's President Bush's resolution, eat fewer cheeseburgers. I think he should eat more cheeseburgers, by the way. And Tucker and I have a few cheeseburgers -- cheeseburgers? Resolutions for other people, famous Americans.

My first one is, Tucker, to John Ashcroft, attorney general. New year's resolution from John Ashcroft, I will read the United States constitution and I will follow it.

CARLSON: Already done, Bill, you'll be glad to know. Mine goes out to Tom Daschle, and it's a moratorium on the phrase "American people." Next time he tries to justify some huge spending by saying "The American people want it," he'll be required to use the name of the actual grubby interest group. The trial lawyers want this, the bison industry wants this. Be honest about it, no more "American people" justification.

PRESS: Aren't productive bison farmers part of the American people?

CARLSON: Actually, they're not.

PRESS: Aren't trial lawyers American?

CARLSON: They're definitely not. They're definitely not.


PRESS: All right, I have a very important new year's resolution here for former presidential candidate, former Vice President Al Gore. Yes, here's the resolution. In 2002, I will shave my beard. Do it, Al, and then come out of your shell.

CARLSON: I'm pleased to say that will not happen, which means his political career is over, leaving the door open for my second resolution. This goes out to Mrs. Clinton, Hillary Clinton, junior senator from New York. And my resolution is: Run for president. The Republican Party needs you, Mrs. Clinton. You would be a marvelous presidential candidate. It will provide endless hours of entertainment for those of us in the press, and best of all, you would lose.

PRESS: She will be the first woman president of the United States, but not in 2004.

CARLSON: I will eat my blue cards if she comes close.

PRESS: You have always underestimated Hillary Clinton. Now, I have a resolution for you, Tucker: In the year 2002, you, being tired of being mistaken on the street for George Will or Paul Simon, will finally begin to wear a real tie, a whole tie, Tucker, and I have the first one for you, thanks to one of our viewers. There you are. Look how good it looks!

CARLSON: That's the most unattractive thing I've ever seen, and I have a resolution for you, Bill. Thank you. I won't take you up on it, and that is I want you to acknowledge Gary Condit as not only as a decent person but a fellow Democrat, and every time you mention the Democratic Party, your beloved party, I want you to say: "As Gary Condit, a fellow Democrat, I would say." Or, "I would say, a Democratic Party, a Gary Condit party." I want you to acknowledge Gary Condit as a Democrat.

PRESS: I want you...

CARLSON: The archetypal Democrat!

PRESS: I want you to know, Tucker, that will be the first new year's resolution that I will break.

CARLSON: You will?

PRESS: From the left, happy new year, everybody. I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for the second show of 2002 here on CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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