Media Outlets Denied Same-Day Access to Padilla Trial Audio

By: The judge in the federal trial of alleged al-Qaida operative and former Chicago gang member Jose Padilla refused Thursday to require that tapes of wiretapped phone calls and other audio evidence be released to journalists on the same day they are heard in court.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke agreed with government arguments that the mandate sought by The Associated Press and other media outlets would have unfairly burdened the U.S. Attorney?s Office, which prepares copies of such materials.

?I don?t think that so far any of the methods that the United States has used has denied the press access in any way,? Cooke said.

Cooke ordered audio files to be released by noon on the business day after their airing. She said copies of documents should be available by 10 p.m. the same day.

?This is not an issue of access, it?s only an issue of time,? Cooke said. ?And the case law says that?s the jurisdiction of the court.?

The timeline ordered by Cooke would create problems for journalists on deadline, particularly broadcast outlets relying on the audio released by the government, because no cameras or recording equipment are allowed in the courtroom.

Judith Mercier, the attorney representing AP in the case, said there was significant precedent for more timely release of the materials.

?Access delayed is access denied,? she said.

The AP, which was joined by CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times in its fight, suggested copies of materials could be prepared in advance, but the government said it feared the inadvertent early release of evidence or the distribution of items never intended for the public. The media coalition is considering an appeal of Cooke?s decision.

Prosecutors have begun to play some of their 123 main evidence tapes, a tiny fraction of the 300,000 conversations intercepted by the FBI in an investigation that stretched over a decade.

The trial has garnered international attention.

Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant, is charged along with Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi with being part of a support network for Muslim extremist groups worldwide. Padilla was initially accused in 2002 of plotting with al-Qaida to detonate a radioactive ?dirty bomb? inside the United States, but those charged are not part of the Miami indictment.

All three men face life in prison if convicted.


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