Moran Seeks Ashcroft's Assurance — No More Trials Here

Moran Seeks Ashcroft's Assurance — No More Trials Here

City Gears Up for Onslaught of Media Coverage

As he promised to the residents of Alexandria’s Carlyle Towers, US Congressman James P. Moran (D-8) has written a letter to U. S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asking that no further terrorist trials be scheduled in the city.

"As you know, the trials of John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui are being held in my congressional district at the Albert V. Bryan Federal Courthouse. While I understand that these trails are being held in this facility because of their close proximity to the Pentagon and Alexandria’s reputation for having the “rocket docket," I do have some concerns due to the fact that directly next door to this building is a large residential complex, The Carlyle Towers, that houses approximately 1,000 people,” Moran wrote.

“As I am sure you are aware, currently the US Marshal Service is working diligently to come up with a security plan that will guarantee the safety of the neighborhood surrounding the courthouse while preventing traffic problems in the area from becoming any worse due to the influx of the media covering the trials.

"However, outside of these efforts, it is clear that in the climate that exists in our world today, it will be impossible to guarantee that terrorists will not try to disrupt the trial or harm the civilians who live next door."

Moran went on to say in his letter to the attorney general, “Similarly, as I understand it, a determination has not yet been made as to whether future trials of suspected terrorists other than Lindh and Moussaoui will be held at the Albert V. Bryan Federal Courthouse. Based on the comments I heard at my town hall meeting, combined with the planned opening of the PTO offices later this year, I would like to strongly suggest that an alternative site be found for future proceedings of this nature where the government would not have to be responsible for the safety of so many civilians…” Moran wrote.

THE RESIDENTS suggested such sites as Fort Belvoir, Fort A. P. Hill and Quantico, all still within the Eastern District of Virginia’s jurisdiction. Moran asked Ashcroft why these sites had not been considered.

Residents would like to have seen all of the trials moved but Moran did not ask that this be done. “It is our patriotic duty to do what we can to support the fight against terrorism,” Moran said in an earlier interview.

As for the media’s arrival to witness the two scheduled trials, the city is making plans to accommodate their needs and to ensure that their arrival in the fall disrupts residents as little as possible.

“We have gone from a lot that houses satellite trucks to trailers to tents and back to trailers,” said Barbara Gordon, the city’s Public Information Officer. “I think we are back to trailers.”

Gordon has contacted all media outlets that have requested credentials for the upcoming trials and asked them to respond to a questionnaire about their needs. “We are really trying to get a handle on just how many people will be here,” she said. “We really still do not know.”

THE CITY'S CURRENT PLAN which must go through the Planning Commission and City Council for approval, calls for making facilities available to the media on a vacant site just across from the courthouse. The site will one day contain a hotel. Today, however, the 1.2 acres are most often used by Carlyle Towers residents to walk their dogs.

The city would construct a platform where still cameras could be placed and a podium where attorneys could hold press conferences. There is no pressroom in the courthouse.

“We have talked to Verizon and they have agreed to run fiber optic cable so that members of the media can transmit from the site,” Gordon said. “We hope that this will eliminate the need for any satellite transmission vehicles. These would not be allowed on the site and we would hope that they would not be parked on the street in the neighborhood.”

But where are members of the media going to write their stories and go to make phone calls during recesses in the trial? The city is proposing that they use trailers.

“We would determine the size of the trailers and the number that will fit on the site but each media outlet would be responsible for acquiring and setting up a trailer,” Gordon said. “We’ve asked that they share facilities and are still trying to get a count of just how many we need.”

Emily Baker, the city engineer, has been assisting with trailer specifications. “It is really difficult not to know just how many trailers are going to be requested,” Baker said. “My best guess is that we will be able to accommodate between 12 and 20 trailers that will be 10 by 40 feet or 10 by 48 feet. We are still waiting to hear from some members of the media and, of course, there are others that will simply appear without contacting us. This has been very challenging.”

THE CITY MUST HAVE A firmer idea about the media by June 4, when the Planning Commission will hear the request for a Special Use Permit. That request will include parking. “We have identified a lot that WAMATA owns on Mill Road that is not being used for anything,” Gordon said. “Members of the media will be able to park their vehicles at this location. We are trying to cut down on the number of trips in the area immediately adjacent to the courthouse.”

That is important because the US Marshal Service has decided that Elizabeth Lane and Jamison Street will be closed to all but essential traffic. Those who live in the area will be able to come and go but there will be checkpoints. Courthouse Square will be closed completely.

“We are talking with Carlyle Development Corporation about signage so that Carlyle Towers residents can use Andrews Lane for parking,” Gordon said. “The residents asked us to get involved and we have. CDC is very receptive to accommodating this request. Also, the Marshal Service is talking about additional lighting for the area around Carlyle Towers.”

A committee of residents is meeting regularly with city and federal officials. “We have tried to keep them informed and accommodate as many of their concerns as possible,” Gordon said. Residents are withholding judgment until they see a final plan.