In early June 2003, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Marilyn Clark agreed to unseal previously secret transcripts of bail hearings for Mohammed El-Atriss, who admittedly provided fake ID cards to two of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
At the first of the hearings, held Nov. 19, 2002, testimony against el-Atriss was compelling enough to convince Clark to double the 46-year-old's bail from $250,000 to $500,000, according to a June 25, 2003, report in The New York Times.
Clark's decision was in response to a motion by media companies to unseal the transcripts. The documents were released later in June, according to the New York Times report. The New York Times further reported that the transcripts contained testimony from Passaic County investigators indicating that a business partner of El-Atriss had been investigated by the FBI for links to terrorism and that El-Atriss might have had contact with two more September 11 hijackers, in addition to the two to whom he provided ID cards.
El-Atriss held a press conference to deny all of the charges and to threaten a lawsuit against the Passaic County for mistreatment he allegedly suffered during his six-month confinement, according to the New York Times report. Federal authorities also downplayed the importance of the testimony contained in the transcripts, saying that El-Atriss was not considered a threat to national security.
El-Atriss accepted a plea deal in February in which he pleaded guilty to one state count of selling simulated documents. He was sentenced to five years' probation and a $15,000 fine.
Initially, El-Atriss' attorney stated that releasing the transcripts could jeopardize national security but dropped their argument when no government agency opposed disclosure, according to a report by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP). Defense counsel then argued that releasing the transcripts could ruin El-Atriss' reputation by publicizing that what El-Atriss had stated was erroneous testimony, wrongly associating him with terrorism. The RCFP report is available online at http://www.rcfp.org/news/2003/0613inrere.html.