WASHINGTON — Defense lawyers in the upcoming New York terrorism trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law asked for a 45-day delay Tuesday, saying their case hinges on testimony that self-confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is expected to give from his Guantanamo Bay prison cell.
New York attorney Stanley Cohen said in court filings that Mohammed would receive written questions on Friday and would need at least four days to review the materials and respond, making it impossible for the federal conspiracy trial against his client, Sulaiman abu Ghaith, to begin Monday as scheduled.
Cohen said Mohammed's testimony, which will be carefully vetted by U.S. officials to ensure it does not contain classified information, is pivotal to Abu Ghaith's defense because another former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Salim Hamdan of Yemen, who was Bin Laden's chauffeur, has decided not to assist in the case.
"Mr. Mohammed's potential testimony is rendered all the more crucial in light of the changed circumstances," Cohen told the court.
The judge did not rule Tuesday on a trial delay.
Cohen also revealed new details about the compromise reached last week with federal prosecutors for access to Mohammed, the most highly valued terrorism detainee in U.S. custody.
He said the defense team had identified various materials for and submitted an "extensive list of questions" to an assistant prosecutor in the civil division of the U.S. attorney's office in New York who is not involved in the Abu Ghaith prosecution.
"All of these questions and materials have already been approved for presentation to Mr. Mohammed," Cohen said, "with no challenge from the government as to their materiality or relevance to the defense of Abu Ghaith."
He said Mohammed's attorney, David Nevin, also was given the questions and would travel to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday or Thursday to present them to Mohammed on Friday. He said the process would "begin what will obviously be a time-consuming question-and-answer process."
Mohammed's answers will first be reviewed by the Pentagon for any classified information. How long that process might take, Cohen said, "is unknown."
After that, Mohammed's answers must be reviewed by the defense to decide whether to submit them to the jury or have Mohammed testify in some fashion.
Abu Ghaith, a 48-year-old Kuwaiti, is alleged to be a top Al Qaeda propagandist who is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and threatening more plane attacks after Sept. 11, 2001.
Mohammed, who faces the death penalty in a military case at Guantanamo Bay, has submitted written statements that aided two other terrorism suspects, including Hamdan, who was eventually released from Guantanamo.
Hamdan initially agreed to be a key defense witness for Abu Ghaith, Cohen said, holding "extended meetings" in Yemen with Abu Ghaith's defense lawyers and expressing "his willingness" to testify.
But, Cohen said, "Hamdan has recently recanted this position and now states that he is no longer willing to testify."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times