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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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No More Trial Delays for Bin Laden’s In-Law

MANHATTAN (CN) - The trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law will not wait on testimony by the alleged "mastermind" of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or evidence of a supposed doppelganger, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Jury selection starts Monday in the case alleging that Sulieman Abu Ghaith met up with his father-in-law bin Laden shortly after the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history to plot more destruction.

As trial approached, Abu Ghaith's lead attorney Stanley Cohen tried to secure testimony from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantanamo Bay's top-secret Camp 7, where he is being held until his military commission for allegedly engineering the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Cohen repeatedly complained about restrictions mandating that Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers supervise any interview with Mohammed.

A little more than a week ago, the parties ironed out an agreement to send the questions to Mohammed at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. Mohammed's written responses would go through security review during their transmission to the U.S. mainland.

Upon learning that an unspecified U.S. intelligence agency wanted a peek at his answers, however, Mohammed's lawyer did not send the 14-page answer, Cohen said Friday.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who already has pushed back the trial schedule several weeks, refused to hold a jury any longer while waiting on a resolution.

"The bottom line is that no answers have been turned over for security review," Kaplan said, adding that whether it ever would occur is a "matter of speculation."

Kaplan invited Cohen and his co-counsel to file with the clerk's office if they ever get Mohammed's answers.

"It's a free country," Kaplan said.

Cohen blamed the impasse on an "unidentified intelligence agency" inserting itself into a matter that is "none of their damn business," at a makeshift press conference following the hearing.

"You can guess who that third party is," Cohen added.

Guantanamo attorneys in general, and lawyers for Mohammed and his co-defendants in particular, have repeatedly alleged that the CIA and the National Security Agency snoop on their communications.

A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Cohen's co-counsel Zoe Dolan also made no headway on a recent motion to seek information about another Guantanamo detainee, whom she claims prosecutors may have confused with Abu Ghaith.

"Defense interviews with men who were previously detained at Guantanamo Bay have indicated that the other Individual was: (1) of North African or possibly Yemeni descent; (2) an 'insider' in al Qaeda; (3) close to Osama bin Laden; and (4) present in and around Afghanistan and Tora Bora at the time alleged in the indictment," Dolan wrote to the court on Wednesday. "Further, it appears that the other Individual received serious military training through al Qaeda."

Prosecutors were not impressed with the defense's new theory of the case.

In a reply letter that calls the "verbal similarity" between the two names "wholly immaterial," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin identified the detainee in question as Abdul-Rahman Abdo Abulghaith Suleiman.

"The core of the government's case is a cooperating witness who interacted with the defendant and videos that depict the defendant," Lewin wrote.

That cooperating witness already has identified Abu Ghaith, whose lawyers have stipulated to his appearance in a video warning the United States and its allies that "[a] great army is gathering against you."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferraro added Friday that this was no case of mistaken identity, but a case of "barking up the wrong tree."

"By no one's account can this person be confused with the defendant in this case," he said.

The court did not address an unrelated possibility for delay to jury selection, with a possible blizzard heading to New York City on Monday.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on a Justice Department matter.

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