NEW YORK (AP) - Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was convicted Wednesday for his role as al-Qaida’s fiery chief spokesman after 9/11 - a verdict prosecutors said vindicated the Obama administration’s strategy of bringing terror suspects to justice in civilian court.
Prosecutors said he played a leading role in the terror organization’s post-9/11 propaganda videos, in which he and others gloated over the destruction and he warned of a “storm of airplanes” to follow.
He could get life in prison at sentencing Sept. 8.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he hopes the verdict brings some comfort to al-Qaida victims.
“He was more than just Osama bin Laden’s propaganda minister,” Bharara said. “Within hours after the devastating 9/11 attacks, Abu Ghaith was using his position in al-Qaida’s homicidal hierarchy to persuade others to pledge themselves to al-Qaida in the cause of murdering more Americans.”
Abu Ghaith’s lawyers had argued that he was being prosecuted for his words and associations - not his deeds - and that there was no evidence tying him to any of the terror plots that prosecutors suggested he knew about ahead of time.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the verdict was a success for the Obama administration’s policy of using the federal courts instead of military tribunals to handle terrorism cases.
“It would be a good thing for the country if this case has the result of putting that political debate to rest,” Holder said.
As the verdict was read, Abu Ghaith appeared composed. He smiled at a friend from Kuwait in the courtroom as he was led away.
His attorney, Stanley Cohen, vowed to appeal, complaining that the judge had pressured the jury for a verdict and had barred the defense from calling self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed as a witness.
In a written statement, Mohammed had said Abu Ghaith had no military role in al-Qaida. Mohammed himself will be judged by a military tribunal at Guantanamo after plans to bring him to New York for trial were aborted because of political opposition.
In the trial’s most dramatic testimony, Abu Ghaith described being summoned to a dark Afghanistan cave within hours of the destruction of the World Trade Center to confer with bin Laden, who told him: “We are the ones who did it.”