NEW YORK — The self-described architect of the Sept. 11 attacks will not be allowed to testify in the terrorism trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected a request by defense lawyers to call Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as a witness at the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith using live, closed-circuit video from Guantanamo Bay, where Mohammed is imprisoned.
At a hearing during an off day at Abu Ghaith’s trial, Kaplan told the defense that the testimony would be irrelevant because there was no evidence that Mohammed and Abu Ghaith had ever met or even been in the same country. He also criticized Abu Ghaith’s lawyers for making the request at such a late stage.
“I have considered this very carefully,” Kaplan said. “This is much ado about nothing.”
When a lawyer for Abu Ghaith stood to try to argue further, Kaplan ordered him to sit down.
“Too little, too late,” the judge said in a stern tone. “It’s not here. It’s denied.”
Abu Ghaith has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to kill Americans and aided al Qaeda as the terror group’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks. The 48-year-old onetime imam at a Kuwaiti mosque was brought to New York from Turkey last year.
The judge’s ruling means the jury also will be barred from considering a 14-page statement Mohammed provided in response to 451 questions from Abu Ghaith’s lawyers.
In the statement, Mohammed said Abu Ghaith had no military role in al Qaeda — a claim possibly supporting defense arguments that Abu Ghaith had no knowledge of pending al Qaeda attacks when he warned on a widely circulated video after Sept. 11, 2001, that “the storm of airplanes will not abate.”
At the same time, Mohammed’s statement seemed to back the government’s position that Abu Ghaith was a key player in al Qaeda, saying fighting one of the world’s superpowers meant “we would have to resort to a long war of attrition to which the military and media alike contribute.”
Mohammed said he never personally spoke to Abu Ghaith about plots to blow up U.S. airplanes with shoe bombs in December 2001, when Mohammed headed al Qaeda’s operations conducted outside of Afghanistan.
He also wrote that he wanted to help Abu Ghaith but was distrustful of the source of the questions posed to him, saying they reminded him of interrogations he underwent after his 2003 capture.
Abu Ghaith is the highest-level al Qaeda figure to be tried in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks. His trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday.
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