The Justice and Defense departments will let lawyers for former al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith interview Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantánamo Bay under "certain conditions," a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Lawyers for Abu Ghaith, an Osama bin Laden son-in-law charged with conspiring to kill Americans, contend that Mohammed can rebut a witness expected to testify that their client knew about the so-called shoe bomb plot to down an airliner in December 2001.
Prosecutor Michael Ferrara told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan that clearance has been obtained for a Mohammed visit before Abu Ghaith's trial begins in federal court in Manhattan on Feb. 24.
But defense lawyer Stanley Cohen warned that one of the "conditions" -- that Defense and Justice department lawyers sit in on the interview -- was likely to be unacceptable to Mohammed and his lawyer, and was unfair. "It forces us to disclose our defense," he said.
The proposed interview could lead to a video appearance by Mohammed at the trial, but a standoff could force Kaplan to issue an order that the Defense Department might not be willing to follow.
The judge told the two sides to consult, and set a Thursday hearing. Abu Ghaith is charged with being a propagandist, but not with planning or knowing about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.