US balks at 9/11 plotter’s trial role

NEW YORK — Prosecutors on Monday tried to stop the coordinator of the Sept. 11 attacks from providing testimony at the terrorism trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law.

The government submitted written arguments asking US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to exclude the words of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s trial.

Abu Ghaith is facing charges he conspired to kill Americans and aided Al Qaeda as the terror group’s spokesman after Sept. 11, 2001. The 48-year-old onetime imam at a Kuwaiti mosque was brought to New York from Turkey last year.


Prosecutors said defense lawyers should be blocked from calling Mohammed as a witness through live, closed-circuit video from Guantanamo Bay, where he is imprisoned.

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They cite the late request — the defense began its presentation by calling two FBI agents as witnesses on Monday — and the fact that Mohammed has insisted he will not testify. The judge scheduled arguments for Tuesday morning.

Defense lawyers asked to use Mohammed as a witness after reviewing a 14-page statement Mohammed provided in response to 451 questions posed through them.

In it, Mohammed wrote that he wanted to help Abu Ghaith but was distrustful of the source of the questions posed to him, saying they reminded him of interrogations he underwent after his 2003 capture.

He said Abu Ghaith did not play any military role in Al Qaeda, a statement supporting defense arguments that he did not know about pending Al Qaeda attacks when he warned on a widely circulated video after Sept. 11, 2001, that ‘‘the storm of airplanes will not abate.’’


Mohammed also seemed to support the government’s argument that Abu Ghaith played a key role in Al Qaeda, saying fighting one of the world’s superpowers meant ‘‘we would have to resort to a long war of attrition to which the military and media alike contribute.’’

He said bin Laden put Abu Ghaith in charge for a time of Al Qaeda’s media operations, where workers did not know about specific terrorist plots because even ‘‘those carrying out the operations are not privy to the specific plans until the goal or the time of the operation approaches for fear that the operation will be botched or miscarried.’’ Mohammed said those tasked to speak on videos would be chosen if they were an ‘‘eloquent, spellbinding speaker.’’

He said Abu Ghaith ‘‘was not a military man and had nothing to do with military operations.’’

He added that he never personally spoke to Abu Ghaith about plots to blow up US airplanes with shoe bombs in December 2001, when Mohammed headed Al Qaeda’s operations conducted outside of Afghanistan.

Mohammed said he never saw Abu Ghaith with Richard Reid, who attempted to detonate a plane bound for the United States with a bomb hidden in his shoe. Mohammed also said he didn’t know whether Abu Ghaith swore a loyalty oath to bin Laden. And he said he never saw Abu Ghaith pushing fighters in Afghanistan to take the oath.


Abu Ghaith is the highest-level Al Qaeda figure to be tried in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks.

If the judge allows Abu Ghaith’s lawyers to depose Mohammed, details would have to be worked out. In the 2006 sentencing phase of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only Sept. 11 conspirator convicted in federal court, the defense submitted interrogation summaries from Mohammed and other high-value detainees held at secret CIA prisons overseas.