Sulaiman Abu Ghaith Cannot Testify About Wrong Man Charged

Abu Ghaith

 Abu Ghaith

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, will not be allowed to testify at his trial that authorities initially charged a different individual with a global terrorism plot following 9/11. Abu Ghaith also was banned from using testimony given by the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Defense attorneys were also barred from calling Mohammed as a witness.

Abu Ghaith is charged as being a co-conspirator in the September attacks which leveled the Twin Towers in New York as well as killing military and civilian employees at the Pentagon in Virginia. A third plane, Flight Number 93, crashed in Pennsylvania as a result of passengers attacking the hijackers.

Lewis Kaplan, a US District Judge in Manhattan, turned down a defense motion to investigate their claims that the wrong man was on trial. He is charged with working with bin Laden and members of al-Qaeda in a variety of plots including failed schemes to set off explosives in jets carrying passengers. A Kuwaiti, Ghaith was one of the more important leaders after Navy Seals shot and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist in May 2011.

Kaplan quizzed over 40 potential jurors regarding their backgrounds and views. Opening arguments are set to begin March 5. The juror’s identity will remained sealed and jurors kept together as a group when not in the courtroom. They will be escorted by US Marshals when they enter and exit the courthouse each day of the trial.

Defense lawyer, Zoe Dolan, told the judge that a native of Yemen, currently held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is the man who should be standing trial. Kaplan called the claim of mistaken identify “utterly meritless” and told defense attorneys they’ve missed their chance to access the testimony of Mohammed.

Stanley Cohen, one the defense attorneys, said that Mohammed is in the best position to tell the jury whether or not Abu Ghaith had prior knowledge of al-Qaeda plots. Mohammed is also at Guantanamo Bay waiting for trial before a military tribunal.

Cohen informed the judge during a February hearing that Mohammed provided a statement to Abu Ghaith’s defense lawyers. According to Cohen, David Nevin, a Mohammed lawyer, then refused to turnover the documents as US Intelligence agencies were also trying to get their hands on it. Mohammed’s statement is locked in a safe in Nevin’s office in Boise, according to Cohen.

Kaplan then informed the defense team that he was doubtful that Mohammed possessed information that could help Abu Ghaith  and wouldn’t holdup the trial. He did tell the defense that they could ask again about using Mohammed’s statement if Nevin and the US Defense Department reached an agreement about reviewing the material first.

The possibility remains that the documents will never released. Prosecutors state that Abu Ghaith worked with bin Laden and bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawhiri. According to prosecutors, Abu Ghaith appeared in a variety of videos with bin Laden and al-Zawhiri. Abu Ghaith allegedly had advance information about several plans including Richard Reid’s attempt to explode a shoe bomb in December 2001.

By Jerry Nelson

ABC News
NY Times
DW Network