NEW YORK – A judge said he found it "stunning" to hear Monday that federal budget woes could delay the start of a terrorism trial for Osama bin Laden's son-in-law.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan's comment came as he set deadlines for lawyers to submit pre-trial arguments regarding Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who pleaded not guilty last month to charges that he conspired to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaida's top propagandist after Sept. 11.
The charismatic al-Qaida spokesman was shown in early October 2001, sitting with bin Laden and current al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in what became a heavily watched propaganda video. Prosecutors say he had called on every Muslim to join the fight against the United States, declaring that "jihad is a duty."
Ghaith, who was brought to the U.S. last month, was handcuffed as he was led into a courtroom Monday. The handcuffs were taken off before he listened through headphones to an Arabic translator.
Kaplan said he was considering starting the trial as early as September, drawing protests from defense lawyers who said the 5.1 percent across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration required all public defenders to be furloughed for more than five weeks by the fall.
"It is extremely troublesome to contemplate the possibility of a case of this nature being delayed because of sequestration. Let me say only that," the judge said, pausing before adding: "Stunning."
The judge left open the possibility that the trial may not begin until next year.
Defense lawyers said they expected to ask the judge to toss out a 22-page statement Abu Ghaith provided after his Feb. 28 arrest in Jordan.
They also said they were likely to seek a change of venue. The federal courthouse in lower Manhattan is located just blocks from the World Trade Center complex.
Efforts to change the location where a trial is held or to challenge post-arrest statements have been unsuccessful in previous terrorism trials in Manhattan.
The single notable exception occurred when the Obama administration announced it was going to conduct a civil trial in New York for Khalid Sheik Mohammad, who has claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, and four others, only to return the cases to military tribunal proceedings amidst an uproar over security concerns.