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Prosecutors try to block testimony from alleged Sept. 11 mastermind

NEW YORK -- Prosecutors in the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, who is on trial for conspiring to kill Americans, are trying to block jurors from hearing testimony from the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that could help the defense’s case.

Arguments were scheduled Tuesday in the issue, which brewed for months in the buildup to the trial of Sulaiman abu Ghaith.

Abu Ghaith faces life in prison if convicted on three terrorism-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty and denies prosecutors’ allegations that he was a high-ranking Al Qaeda leader who knew of post-Sept. 11 plots against the United States.

In court papers filed Monday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Nicholas J. Lewin said defense attorney Stanley Cohen’s attempt to introduce testimony of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, an inmate at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, came too late.

“His motion is little more than an attempt to delay the trial,” Lewin said of Cohen’s request, which was filed Sunday night. As part of the request, Cohen included 14 pages of responses written by Mohammed to defense questions.

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Mohammed, who has been in U.S. custody since 2003, wrote that Abu Ghaith was not privy to deadly anti-U.S. plots hatched in the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, a contradiction of prosecutors’ allegations. He said Abu Ghaith, who was a spokesman for Al Qaeda, had the job of giving speeches encouraging violent jihad and threatening attacks because he was a powerful orator, not because he had a leading role in the organization.

Cohen says Mohammed’s testimony would help Abu Ghaith; but Lewin noted that in his written statement, Mohammed said he did not want to testify and would not do so via video or other means.

Because of security issues, Mohammed cannot be brought to New York to take the stand.

Mohammed’s testimony has been allowed in two previous cases involving high-profile prisoners accused of terrorism.

In 2006, his interrogation summaries were read aloud in the capital murder trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. Moussaoui is serving a life sentence without parole.

Two years later, different statements by Mohammed were read in a military tribunal that led to the release from Guantanamo Bay of Bin Laden’s chauffeur, Salim Hamdan.

Abu Ghaith, who is married to one of Bin Laden’s daughters, has been in U.S. custody since his arrest Feb. 28, 2013. He faces three charges: conspiring to kill Americans; conspiring to provide material support or resources to Al Qaeda; and providing material support and resources to Al Qaeda.

The defense called its first witnesses Monday, two FBI agents who accompanied Abu Ghaith on the Gulf Stream jet that flew him to the United States following his arrest in Jordan.

During the flight, Abu Ghaith wore leg irons, hand cuffs, ear plugs and goggles covered in black tape to prevent him from seeing and hearing what was going on around him, said Louis P. Luciano Jr., the FBI agent who was overseeing security during the 14-hour flight.

“We told him ... he would be treated as a gentleman as long as he acted like a gentleman,” said Luciano. “He was cooperative.”

Testimony is expected to end this week in the trial, which began March 5.


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