WASHINGTON — The federal judge overseeing the case against accused Al Qaeda propagandist Sulaiman abu Ghaith on Wednesday granted a one-week delay in the trial’s start date, giving defense attorneys additional time to review potential testimony that is expected to be offered by Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
The judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, agreed to postpone jury selection from next Monday to March 3. Defense lawyers had sought a 45-day delay.
Last week, Mohammed, who is awaiting his own military trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, agreed to review and answer an extensive list of questions about Ghaith, who was Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law. Ghaith’s attorneys hope to use Mohammed as a key witness to show that their client was merely a low-level member of Al Qaeda, not a senior leader as U.S. officials allege.
Ghaith, 48, is charged with criminal conspiracy on allegations that he called for more terrorist strikes after the Sept. 11, 2001, airplane hijackings and warned that more airplane attacks would follow.
He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with no parole.
In a separate order, Kaplan decided earlier Wednesday that federal prosecutors would not be allowed to review any statements given by Mohammed to Ghaith’s attorneys.
The ruling was a victory for Ghaith, giving his defense team more leeway to review Mohammed’s responses and decide whether they will help their case.
But Mohammed’s statements will be screened and censored by U.S. intelligence officials to ensure that they do not contain classified information.
The order also stipulates that Mohammed cannot be asked any questions about his years being held in a secret CIA “black site,” details about his current imprisonment at Guantanamo, or the status of other terrorism suspects detained there.
Mohammed’s responses could take four days to compile, his attorneys said.