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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Terrorist’s Pilot Denied a Pseudonym for Trial

MANHATTAN (CN) - Osama bin Laden's former pilot cannot testify under a pseudonym to help convict the slain al-Qaida leader's son-in-law, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Stanley Cohen, an attorney for bin Laden's son-in-law Sulieman Abu Ghaith, joked after the hearing about what pseudonym might have been used for bin Laden's former pilot, L'Houssaine Kherchtou, when he testifies against Abu Ghaith this month.

"I wanted to call him Ariel Sharon," Cohen quipped, referring to the recently deceased Israeli leader.

A well-known provocateur, Cohen calls himself the "world's most criminal defense attorney" on his website, and is defending himself against criminal tax evasion charges while representing Abu Ghaith on charges that he plotted with al-Qaida.

Abu Ghaith appeared in a propaganda video days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, alongside bin Laden and the terrorist's then-deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Like Kherchtou, several of the expected witnesses have previously been convicted on terrorism charges, including bin Laden's former driver Salim Hamdan, testifying for the defense.

Kherchtou appeared in the same court, before the same judge, a little more than three years ago to testify against Ahmed Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be prosecuted in federal court. Ghailani was convicted of one out of 285 charges related to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa.

When he took the stand under his real name in October 2010, Kherchtou dropped his head and cried as he recounted that bin Laden refused to pay for his pregnant wife's medical care. He became a highly visible figure as news outlets around the world reported his tearful testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan asked the judge Thursday to let the pilot use a pseudonym in Abu Ghaith's trial for his safety and privacy.

"We appreciate that this is an unusual request," Cronan said.

Abu Ghaith's lawyer Cohen countered that the request was unnecessary as well because he does not intend to ask Kherchtou about personal information, such as his address.

A bemused U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan commented that "anyone with half a brain and an interest" can find out Kherchtou's identity from his testimony and the public records of his conviction in connection to the embassy bombings.

Rejecting the request, Kaplan added, "I don't fail to take seriously the concerns."

Abu Ghaith's lawyers made small strides meanwhile in landing an interview in Guantanamo Bay with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed "mastermind" of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

On Tuesday, Cohen objected to provisions obligating him to interview Mohammed only in the presence of lawyers from the Department of Justice and Department of Defense who would guard against the spillage of national security secrets.

The parties came up with a compromise two days later to send hundreds of prescreened questions known as interrogatories to Guantanamo Bay for Mohammed to read and answer, Cohen said.

Cohen told the court that Mohammed's attorney David Nevin is in Guantanamo working on the matter "as we speak."

If any of the answers are relevant to the defense, Cohen said that he may ask the judge to allow Mohammed to testify for the defense, as he did in the military commission of Hamdan.

Cohen said that this testimony would be conducted via closed-circuit television from the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. He may have little time to arrange for the testimony to occur with trial slated for Feb. 24.

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