In a move reminiscent of Zacarias Moussaoui, accused al-Qaida embassy bomber Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani - the first Guantánamo detainee moved to New York for a civilian trial - has booted one of his defense lawyers.
Ghailani, charged with conspiring to blow up two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, asked to remove court-appointed attorney Gregory Cooper, and the request was granted by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, according to the court's docket.
Ghailani's request was not made public, and the judge did not explain Ghailani's reasons in the order announcing Cooper's removal.
"The court appreciates Mr. Cooper's efforts on behalf of his client," Kaplan wrote.
Cooper, who was the first lawyer appointed to represent Ghailani in June, declined to discuss what happened.
But he did say that it isn't unusual for a judge to permit a defendant one request for a different court-appointed lawyer. Moussaoui, the last accused al-Qaida terrorist to face trial in the United States, engaged in a years-long struggle against his court-appointed lawyers, attacking them as evil agents of the government. The dispute was partly triggered by questions they raised about his competency.
Ghailani, a Tanzanian in his mid-30s, spent five years undergoing interrogation at secret CIA sites and Guantánamo.
He was represented by two military lawyers at Guantánamo and asked for them to continue in New York, but the Defense Department refused. Last year, Ghailani's defense team raised questions about his mental state, saying that he was so "emotionally and psychologically damaged . . . that it affects his ability to assist in his defense."
But in a hearing last week, Cooper's co-counsel Peter Quijano - who remains on the case - seemed to reverse course on that claim, telling Kaplan he had "no doubt" that Ghailani was competent to stand trial.
Despite the parallels, sources familiar with the case cautioned against comparing Ghailani with Moussaoui. Whatever his concerns, he has not engaged in the courtroom outbursts that became routine for Moussaoui, and there is no evidence that he has issues with his remaining lawyers - Quijano and Michael Bachrach.