NEW YORK – A man prosecutors allege is Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and former spokesman will go on trial next week, despite claims by his lawyers that the government may have charged the wrong person, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected an 11th-hour bid by lawyers for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith to delay the trial while they sought more information about a second man being held at the United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Calling the mistaken identity claim "utterly meritless," Kaplan told lawyers on both sides at a pretrial hearing that jury selection would go forward in federal court in Manhattan on Monday as originally planned.
Abu Ghaith has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaida's spokesman after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
The defense filed papers Thursday, saying its investigation had found a Guantanamo detainee with a name "very similar" to Abu Ghaith who was an al-Qaida insider, was close to bin Laden and was in Afghanistan during the period referred to in the indictment. The defense accused the government of withholding information about the second man that could bolster a motion to dismiss the case.
In a letter to the judge Friday, prosecutors said there was a detainee with a name that was partially similar to Abu Ghaith's, but argued the similarity is irrelevant.
"The core of the government's case is a cooperating witness who interacted with the defendant and videos that depict the defendant," the letter said. "The cooperating witness identified a photograph of the defendant as the person he was dealing with in Afghanistan. And the defendant has already stipulated that the person depicted in the videos is him."
The judge also ruled that defense lawyers had run out of time to determine whether the testimony of Guantanamo detainee Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, could help their client's case.
The defense has said that Mohammed's testimony could help them counter the government's claim that Abu Ghaith "must have known" in advance of al-Qaida's so-called shoe bomb plot, which included Richard C. Reid's attempt in December 2001 to detonate explosives he had in his shoes aboard a trans-Atlantic flight.
Defense attorneys said Friday that Mohammed had provided a 14-page response to written questions, but his lawyer was refusing to turn it over unless there was a guarantee that military lawyers at Guantanamo wouldn't review it.
The judge called the potential value of Mohammed's response "entirely a matter of speculation," and refused to consider the matter further.