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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Weeklong Trial Delay for Osama Bin Laden In-Law

MANHATTAN (CN) - A proposed interview with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged "mastermind" of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, will delay for one more week the trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

In a tense half-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan indicated that he is unlikely to grant any more postponements for Sulieman Abu Ghaith's defense team.

A March 3 trial is now slated for Abu Ghaith to face charges that he plotted with al-Qaida based on, among other things, his appearance in a propaganda video next to bin Laden and his father-in-law's then-deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri days after the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

To distance the defendant from a shoe-bombing plot, Abu Ghaith's lead attorney Stanley Cohen has been trying for the past few weeks to organize an interview with Mohammed, who allegedly was at the center of dozens of violent attacks against the United States. Cohen and prosecutors reached an agreement last week to send Mohammed and his lawyers at Guantanamo Bay a list of hundreds of questions.

After Mohammed answers the questions, security teams for the Department of Defense and Department of Justice will need to screen the responses, Cohen says, requesting a 45-day delay for the process to complete.

Cohen indicated that he had little confidence that new barriers would not arise.

"Anything's possible at Gitmo," he said.

Though federal prosecutors agreed to a six-day delay, Judge Kaplan said that he was inclined to be less accommodating.

"I am deeply skeptical that there was any right of access to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on the showing that the defense made," Kaplan said. "The government has given access, such as it is, on their terms, such as they are. ... Were it up to me, we would have picked a jury on Monday and begin."

Kaplan and Cohen butted heads throughout the hearing, which lasted a little more than 30 minutes.

At one point, Kaplan said that Cohen's explanation for what had held up the interview with Mohammed was "as clear as pea soup from the bottom of a cauldron."

In a New York accent, Cohen repeatedly referred to "walled-off" prosecutors inspecting Mohammed's replies, using a phrase for government officials cleared to access classified information.

Kaplan teased his diction by differentiating these officials from a "Waldorf salad."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin had some fun with this wordplay later in the hearing, as he also referred to "walled-off" officials.

Later, Cohen defended his work on the case by emphasizing that he and prosecutors engaged in lengthy discussions to "prevent litigation with Your Honor."

Correcting him again, Kaplan chided, "It's actually litigation 'before' me, not 'with' me."

Meanwhile, Cohen's team is fighting to bar the inclusion of a 30-minute recording of Abu Ghaith, which remains pending. Lewin said that the April 2002 audio contains "myriad threats" by Abu Ghaith, in which he discusses "martyrdom teams" and "American targets."

The issue will likely come up again on at another pretrial hearing on Friday.

At the end of the hearing, Kaplan turned down the temperature by stating that everybody might be guilty Wednesday of blowing "a storm of words with very little content."

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