Prosecutors have taken the rare step of asking a federal judge to shut out the public during the testimony of two FBI undercover employees at an upcoming Miami trial of a Kenyan man accused of funneling money to al-Qaida splinter groups.The public, including the media, would be allowed to watch their testimony on closed circuit TV in a separate room in the downtown courthouse — but their images would be obscured in some manner during the terrorism trial.Prosecutors also want to allow the witnesses to be lightly disguised, such as wearing a closely cropped beard and black-rimmed glasses. One CIA officer did that during the 2007 Miami trial of al-Qaida recruit Jose Padilla. And they want the witnesses to use undercover pseudonyms to protect their true identities.The goal, sought by the FBI, is to safeguard the bureau’s counterterrorism operatives and investigations.“The defense shall be prohibited from asking any questions seeking personal identifying information from or about the [undercover employees],” the U.S. attorney’s office requested in a motion filed in February.The defense attorney for Mohamed Hussein Said, arrested in his native country after being targeted by an Internet sting operation based in Miami, views the government's demands as a violation of her client’s constitutional right to a fair trial — akin to a star chamber.Miami attorney Silvia Piñera-Vazquez countered in a court response that the “government’s actions in this case are eerily similar” to the prosecution described in Franz Kafka’s The Trial.In the classic 1937 novel, the attorney noted last week, “a bank teller was arrested and prosecuted by a remote, unidentified authority, of an unidentified crime, by unidentified witnesses, and eventually executed.”Piñera-Vazquez argues that expelling the public from the courtroom during the testimony of the “secret” witnesses and prohibiting any questions about their true identity “insulates” them from “any meaningful cross-examination, thus creating a unilateral, secret prosecution.”Last year, at a federal terrorism trial in Tampa, a judge fashioned a compromise after the Tampa Tribune objected to the prosecution’s efforts to bar the public during the testimony of an undercover employee. The arrangement allowed for an open courtroom, but with the employee testifying behind a screen so that no one in the gallery could see the witness.
Monday, March 02, 2015
Terrorism cases make bad law
In U.S. v. Said, covered by the Herald, the government is again asking to disguise a witness in an upcoming trial: