DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A lawyer for a suspect accused of being one of the top planners of the Sept. 11 attacks says his client should plead guilty in any U.S. tribunal because the world saw him on TV chatting with Usama bin Laden in an Al Qaeda video.
The defense of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni Al Qaeda suspect captured in 2002, has been hamstrung by his appearance in the video, aired by Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera on Sept. 7 and later posted on the Internet, said the attorney, Najib al-Nueimi.
Bin al-Shibh would be best advised to try to avoid a death sentence by pleading guilty, al-Nueimi told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday.
"I would advise him to say 'I'm guilty,' so at least he can have a life sentence," said al-Nueimi, a former justice minister in Qatar who is also on Saddam Hussein's defense team. "He needs a fair trial and he has the right to go to trial in a civilian court not a military court, no matter what he did."
The video, filmed before the Sept. 11 attacks, was released ahead of the fifth anniversary of the attacks and shows bin al-Shibh in an Afghan mountain camp with bin Laden. A narration says preparations for the suicide hijackings were being made at the camp.
Bin al-Shibh is thought to have acted as the main communications link between the 19 hijackers in the United States and Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Yemeni suspect was one of 14 suspects recently transferred from a secret CIA jail to the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was caught after a shootout in Pakistan in September 2002.
On Sept. 6, President Bush said he wanted to see the 14 put on military trial.
Al-Nueimi said was hired by bin al-Shibh's family after his capture and plans to represent him, but he has had no contact with the prisoner.
It is not clear whether he would be allowed to represent bin al-Shibh in a U.S. military trial. Pentagon officials said the 14 would not receive legal counsel until they went through a "status review process" and were charged with crimes. Until then, the men could receive a U.S. military "representative" but not a lawyer.
The White House Web site says bin al-Shibh was captured using information divulged by another Al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah. In turn, interrogations of bin al-Shibh and Abu Zubaydah turned up clues used to apprehend Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
But al-Nueimi said bin al-Shibh was captured after recording a video interview and sending it to Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera. When the interview didn't air, al-Nueimi said bin al-Shibh made the blunder of phoning the Qatar-based TV network to learn why.
"That call was traced by everyone, the CIA and others. They located the phone," al-Nueimi said in a telephone interview. Al-Nueimi's account could not be independently confirmed.
Al-Nueimi said he has few doubts his would-be client had a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. He surmises the Sept. 7 Al Qaeda video release was timed to take the pressure off the 14 suspects and signal that they should cooperate with investigators rather than endure mistreatment in detention.
"That's what the aim is, to release the pressure on them so they won't be tortured," al-Nueimi said.
Commenting Sept. 7 on the video, deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said, "As the president has said ... one by one we will bring the 9/11 plotters to justice for their vicious acts, including Ramzi bin al-Shibh."
Al-Nueimi said he was hired in October 2002, a month after bin al-Shibh's capture, and was asked by the family to find his client.
"Since then I've been searching for him," he said. "Now I can reactivate the case."