Al-Qaida Convicts to Testify at Ghaith Trial
MANHATTAN (CN) - An apparent accomplice of shoe bomber Richard Reid and a former Guantanamo detainee whose military commission made Supreme Court history can testify via closed circuit TV at the upcoming trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Sulieman Abu Ghaith, who is suspected of appearing in its propaganda video next to his late father-in-law Osama bin Laden and then-deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, will go to trial in a few weeks for allegedly plotting with the terrorist group.
To determine whether Abu Ghaith joined the terror group - or spoke on the video -
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on Wednesday green-lit CCTV testimony from two witnesses, one of whom is not named in the order.
The confidential witness, or CW, is described as having been "arrested in the United Kingdom in 2003 and convicted there" in connection with "an al-Qaida plot to detonate a shoe bomb on a transatlantic airplane."
Saajid Badat, a British alleged co-conspirator of Reid's, is a likely guess for that witness. The BBC reported that Badat had his sentence cut in exchange for agreeing to "testify in a forthcoming terror trial in the US."
A British prosecutor said Badat renounced extremism and considers himself to have been "manipulated and exploited," the BBC reported.
Judge Kaplan said the witness wanted to appear via CCTV to avoid facing prosecution in the District of Massachusetts. Charges have been pending against Badat there since 2004.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment on or confirm the witness's identity.
According to the 11-page order, the CW plans to testify that "he was involved in a post-9/11 terrorist plot to bomb airplanes in the United States at approximately the same time as Abu Ghayth appeared in videos threatening that 'the storm of the airplanes will not stop' and stating 'as a word of advice and for emphasis, we strongly advise Muslims in America and the Britain, the children, and those who reject the unjust American policies-we advise them not to board aircraft.'"
Ghaith's lawyer Stanley Cohen said in a phone interview that he was "very pleased" that the witness that he requested, Salim Hamdan, will also be allowed to testify via CCTV.
A military commission at Guantanamo convicted Hamdan of providing material support for terrorism by virtue of his having been a driver to Osama bin Laden, but the Yemeni was released five months later.
Cohen said the man "represents the face of decades of litigation."
The Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld found that the George W. Bush administration's military commissions violated military code and the Geneva conventions. Congress responded by passing the Military Commission Act of 2006, which listed the offenses that could be tried at Guantanamo. The D.C. Circuit vacated Hamdan's material-support conviction late last year in a decision holding that the statute could not be applied retroactively.
Hamdan is expected to testify on the subject of brevity cards, "which apparently was used by al Qaeda and contains coded names and locations of certain individuals," the ruling states.
"First, he allegedly will testify that an individual's inclusion on a brevity card does not necessarily denote membership in or allegiance to al Qaeda," the order states. "Travelers, car mechanics, and other innocent bystanders apparently were listed on these cards."
Prosecutors plan to introduce evidence that Ghaith appeared on one.
"Second, [Hamdan] allegedly will testify that "the camps were used almost exclusively to train Arab fighters and others to fight against the Northern Alliance alongside the Taliban,'" the order states. "Such testimony potentially could weigh against the government's claim that any speeches Abu Ghayth made at such camps were in furtherance of a conspiracy to kill Americans."
Hamdan cannot, however, testify that bin Laden "used" Ghaith "to give a few religious sermons, and ultimately to add religious 'weight' to the three videos that were aired after 9-11," Kaplan ruled
Such information is irrelevant for the jury, nor is testimony that Hamdan never saw Ghaith pledge an oath of allegiance to al-Qaida and rarely heard bin Laden talk about his son-in-law, the court found.
"There is no claim that Hamdan was or would have been by Abu Ghaith's side at all relevant times," Kaplan wrote, pointing to the fact that prosecutors "need not prove that Abu Ghaith was a high ranking al Qaeda official in order to secure a conviction."