NEW YORK – The government is rushing to bring to trial a terminally ill Libyan man charged with a role in orchestrating al-Qaida's 1998 deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, his lawyer told a judge Thursday.
Attorney Bernard Kleinman filed papers in Manhattan federal court objecting to the government's handling of the case against Abu Anas al-Libi, who was snatched off the streets of Tripoli last October and brought to New York for trial.
His description of his client as "terminally ill" came amid ever worsening reports about the medical condition of al-Libi, though lawyers have only spoken in vague terms about it publicly. Many of the filings in the case are sealed.
"While the government certainly must have hoped that my client's medical issues were minor, or perhaps even feigned, so that he would not be transferred to a medical facility (and certainly the prosecution did little, if anything, to assist in this matter), yet the medical facts belie this position," Kleinman wrote.
Al-Libi has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired in simultaneous attacks on embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. He was once on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists.
In a February court filing, Kleinman said al-Libi was dragged in a military raid from his car as he returned Oct. 5 from morning prayers. He said he was blindfolded, bound and forced at gunpoint into a van and eventually taken to a U.S. naval vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, where he was seasick for a week in an uncomfortably hot room while undergoing CIA questioning.
Kleinman said al-Libi at the time was suffering from an "extreme medical condition that could have led to his imminent death." Authorities said at the time that al-Libi had longstanding health issues.
In Thursday's filing, Kleinman demanded that his client, also known as Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, be permitted to be physically present at any hearing set to determine whether Kleinman might have conflicts of interest that would prevent him from representing al-Libi, who has been housed at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, since late March.
Kleinman told U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan that the government is rushing al-Libi's trial by opposing its severance from a co-defendant's trial.
Yet, he added, the government also is suggesting Kleinman could be disqualified depending on how it is determined he is being paid. The appointment of a new lawyer would force a delay of the Nov. 3 trial date, he said.
A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in Manhattan declined comment Thursday.