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Firefighter 9/11 Calls Private, N.Y. Says

July 24, 2002|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — The mayor's office says it plans to keep secret hundreds of written and audio records related to the Fire Department's response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The documents include 911 calls from people trapped in the towers, radio transmissions between firefighters and taped oral histories with firefighters and emergency medical technicians recounting their experiences that day.

The material was requested by the New York Times, which has filed a suit in state court to obtain the records. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has denied the request.

In court documents, the Bloomberg administration said it is not required to release the radio transmissions and 911 calls because it could hinder the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged as a Sept. 11 conspirator. He is in a Virginia jail.

City attorneys also said a law enforcement exemption in the state's freedom of information law applies in this case because the U.S. attorney's office asked the Fire Department to gather the transmissions and calls to aid in Moussaoui's prosecution.

David McCraw, an attorney representing the newspaper, said similar details have already reached the public via a TV documentary and at least three books.

"There is so much information out there that it would hardly change the balance of Moussaoui getting a fair or impartial jury in Virginia," McCraw said.

The city said releasing oral histories and transmissions would be an invasion of privacy for firefighters and their families. It said the histories constitute interagency reports that will be used for devising policy, which exempts them from freedom of information laws.

"Both the oral histories and the radio transmissions, especially the 911 calls, contain highly personal and emotionally charged material," wrote Michael Cardozo, a city lawyer. "Victims were experiencing life-threatening circumstances, in some instances as they were dying."

The Times argues that firefighters were never informed that their testimony was to remain confidential. The paper also argues the histories were gathered for historical purposes, not to formulate policy.

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