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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Bin Laden’s Son-in-Law Fails to Stifle Evidence

(CN) - Statements made by an alleged terrorist while being taken into custody can be used against him in court, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The United States of America charged Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, with conspiring to kill Americans.

Ghayth wanted to suppress statements he made during a flight from "Country X" back to New York, where he was taken into federal custody.

He claims he was not given Miranda warnings, did not knowingly waive the rights of which those warnings advise, and that his statements in any case were not voluntary.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan shot the motion down last week before the Thanksgiving holiday.

"The purpose of the Miranda warning is to ensure that the person in custody has sufficient knowledge of his or her constitutional rights relating to the interrogation and that any waiver of such rights is knowing, intelligent, and voluntary," Kaplan wrote.

He added that Miranda waivers must be "voluntary in the sense that it was the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception."

Pre-Miranda custodial statements generally are inadmissible, although there is an exception for statements made in response to so-called public safety questions.

Ghayth argued that the FBI agents violated his rights because they did not read him the Miranda warnings until well after questioning began and because the FBI disregarded his alleged requests to speak with a lawyer both early in and again toward the end of the flight.

A delay in presentment also justifies suppressing his statements, Ghayth argued. He alleged that the government played a role in his Turkish detention before he was turned over to United States custody, in violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5.

The court found, however, that Ghayth failed to present any evidence that the United States colluded with Turkey or was otherwise involved in his arrest or interrogation in that country in order to delay presentment.

Ghayth was allegedly in the company of bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and was recorded saying threatening statements about harming more Americans.

"It appears that he soon thereafter fled Afghanistan, eventually arriving in Iran where he claims that he was held by Iranian authorities until some time in 2013 when he was permitted to depart Iran to Turkey," Kaplan wrote. "He then apparently was arrested in Turkey and held for about six weeks following which he was released to the custody of Country X. Country X surrendered him into the custody of a team of FBI personnel, accompanied by a deputy United States Marshal,1 at an airport where Abu Ghayth was placed on a U.S. government plane at about 9:32 p.m. Eastern Standard Time ("EST") and flown to New York (with a refueling stop in Country Y) with the FBI team and the deputy marshal."

At the time a U.S. federal agent known as Agent Butsch apprised Ghayth of his rights and the presentment process, but Ghayth responded: "whether I have a lawyer or not, you can ask any question you like. I am being honest. If there are any misunderstandings, I can correct them."

Butsch said he explained to Ghayth that he had the right to be brought before a judge and assigned an attorney.

Ghayth replied that he would cooperate 100 percent, with or without a lawyer. Questioning then resumed, according to Butsch's testimony.

"Regardless of whether the word 'lawyer' or 'attorney' first came from the mouth of Agent Butsch or of Abu Ghayth, and regardless of Abu Ghayth's undisputed election to go forward with a presentment upon arrival in New York, the court finds that he made no clear and unambiguous request for a lawyer and certainly said nothing that was 'sufficiently clear that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney,'" Kaplan wrote. "This is particularly true when the remark is considered alongside his subsequent assurance that he would cooperate with or without an attorney.

"The court credits the witnesses' testimony and written evidence. It finds that the government has demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that Abu Ghayth did not invoke his right to an attorney or to remain silent at any point during his transfer to the United States."

Kaplan also rejected Ghayth's claims that he suffered from health complications that interfered with his voluntariness.

"Accordingly, viewing the totality of the circumstances, the court finds that the government has met its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Abu Ghayth acted knowingly and voluntarily when he waived his Miranda rights and spoke at length with the FBI," Kaplan wrote.

The evidence supports finding that Ghayth's statements were voluntary, Kaplan said.

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