MANHATTAN (CN) – Igniting extensive controversy already, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s article disputing the official account of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound might land in the dockets of federal and military appeals courts, Courthouse News has learned.
In a phone interview, a New York attorney for a now-deceased embassy bombing suspect revealed that his client disputed the authenticity of bin Laden messages that Hersh’s report alleges to be “fabrications,” in a motion currently under seal in a federal court.
A Pakistani Brooklynite who was recently convicted of supporting al-Qaida also fought the admission of the bin Laden evidence before an FBI agent used it against him at trial, his appellate counsel added.
The lawyer for WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning also commented that her team is considering what significance the report holds for her client’s appeal.
Hersh, the legendary reporter behind the My Lai and Abu Ghraib exposés, stunned many on Sunday night by casting White House’s account of the bin Laden raid as something that “might have been written by Lewis Carroll” in a roughly 10,000-word article for the London Review of Books.
Most government officials, from President Barack Obama to congressional committees to the CIA, have told the public that the United States learned about bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his courier.
The White House asserted that through gumshoe intelligence work, officials traced the world’s most wanted terrorist to a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and then sent its most elite warriors to conduct a highly secretive, professionally executed and heroic operation.
Supposedly in the dark, Pakistan’s top officials did not know that bin Laden found a home in a city a few kilometers away from the inner sanctum of its military and espionage apparatus before the raid, U.S. officials have insisted.
Turning nearly every aspect of this story on its head, Hersh depicted the bin Laden raid as a product of bumbling – some say improbable – coordination by the U.S., Pakistani and Saudi governments to hide their embarrassing entanglements in the episode from their citizens.
Despite NBC News corroborating two of the investigation’s major points and The New York Times backing up many of Hersh’s points in its own story, most of the mainstream press has joined the White House in attacking Hersh’s conclusions.
In one of the story’s more startling allegations, a “retired senior intelligence official” claims that the “treasure trove” of evidence taken from bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound contained nothing more than “fabrications.”
If true, those fabrications have snaked their way in some of today’s biggest terrorism and national security cases.
Before he died of liver cancer, a Libyan known by the nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Libi had been facing a New York trial alleging his participation in the decades-old bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.
Born Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai, Libi insisted before trial that he was not an extremist, and prosecutors sought to undermine that position with supposed notes to his “forever lover” bin Laden purportedly retrieved from Abbottabad.
His lawyer Bernard Kleinman fought the admission of those letters before trial, for reasons that remain undisclosed because the motion had been filed under seal.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected that motion for mootness on Jan. 6, noting that Libi had died a day earlier.
Asked about this over the phone, Kleinman said that he had not read Hersh’s article and he declined to comment on the contents of the sealed document. He stated generally, however, that his client “had issues about [the bin Laden documents’] authentication” under the federal rules of evidence.
The Abbottabad stash also helped support the top charge in the trial of WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning, the highest-profile military court-martial in memory.
Casting the WikiLeaks trove as a boon to al-Qaida, military prosecutors hit Manning with an “aiding the enemy” charge that the presiding judge ultimately found unconvincing.
Following a bench trial two years ago, Col. Denise Lind cleared Manning of that count while convicting her of multiple counts under the Espionage Act and other charges that may have been supported by the Abbottabad evidence.
Manning’s appellate attorney Nancy Hollander, known for her representation of Guantanamo detainees with the firm Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward P.A., indicated in an email that she’s continuing to scrutinize Hersh’s story.
“I did read the report last night,” Hollander wrote on Monday. “But we will need some time to figure out what it means for Chelsea.”
Still unknown is what this means for Pakistani Brooklynite Abid Naseer, who faces life imprisonment when sentenced for his convictions for supporting al-Qaida.
Before and during his trial, Naseer insisted on trying his luck without an attorney, and he also fought the admission of the Abbottabad evidence for reasons that do not appear on the public docket.
Following the jury’s conviction, however, the court reappointed his prior attorney James Neuman, who said over the phone that he has yet to read the Hersh investigation.
“[Naseer] did ask the judge to keep those documents out,” the lawyer said.
In the Naseer case, FBI Agent Alexander Otte reportedly testified at dramatic length about gleaning and authenticating documents from bin Laden’s compound.
For Hersh’s report to be true, the bureau must have “knowingly allowed an FBI agent to perjure himself” in this case, the New York times noted on Monday.
Neuman said he would keep an open mind about all possibilities the recent reports present on appeal.
“I don’t close my eyes to it, but I don’t know what it means until I get more information,” he added.
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