Judge: No 9/11 mastermind testimony at terror trial
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A Manhattan federal judge Tuesday barred former al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith from presenting at his terrorism trial testimony or a statement from Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said defense lawyers waited too long to seek access to Mohammed, who is being held at the Guantánamo Bay military prison, and a 13-page statement cleared last week didn't contain admissible exculpatory evidence.
"There is no showing that he has personal knowledge of anything of importance to this matter," Kaplan said.
Abu Ghaith, 48, a Kuwaiti religious scholar who married one of Osama bin Laden's daughters, is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and using his rhetorical skills to recruit fighters and provide material support to al-Qaida.
Testimony in the case is expected to be completed Wednesday. The defense wanted Kaplan to order a pretrial deposition or live testimony via closed-circuit television from Mohammed, or permit jurors to see parts of his written statement.
In the statement, Mohammed indicated that he was a planner of a post-9/11 plot to use shoe bombs to blow up airplanes, which prosecutors say Abu Ghaith knew about, and that as far as he knew, Abu Ghaith wasn't aware of that plan.
But Kaplan found that Mohammed's statement was hedged. Mohammed, the judge said, noted only that he "personally never spoke with" Abu Ghaith about the shoe-bomb plot and never saw Abu Ghaith with convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, and that al-Qaida media spokesmen "sometimes" are not aware of the existence of an operation.
"Does he address what Suleiman Abu Ghaith knew or didn't know?" Kaplan asked. "He doesn't even touch it with a ten-foot-pole."
The defense originally asked to meet with Mohammed, but the government insisted that it be present for any interview, and Mohammed rejected that condition. In his written statement, Mohammed said he would not testify because he was mistrustful of the process.
Prosecutors argued that his refusal to testify would make the proposed testimony impossible, even if it was relevant. After the ruling by Kaplan, defense lawyer Stanley Cohen reported that Mohammed -- through his attorney -- had agreed to testify, and filed a letter asking Kaplan to reconsider.
Jurors were given Tuesday off, but are scheduled to resume hearing evidence Wednesday.