Bin Laden's son-in-law pleads not guilty in New York
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the al-Qaida spokesman and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden, is likely to have a vast trove of knowledge about the terrorist network's command but not much useful information about fresh threats or plots, intelligence officials and other experts said.
Abu Ghaith pleaded not guilty on Friday to conspiring to kill Americans in propaganda videos that warned of further assaults against the United States as devastating as the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
“He was on Osama bin Laden's right-hand side, and was used by him as a mouthpiece for the organization,” said attorney Michael Rosensaft, who prosecuted terrorism cases in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan until late 2012 and is now in private practice.
Abu Ghaith would be the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to stand trial on domestic soil. Intelligence officials said he probably can provide clarifying information — concerning al-Qaida's murky dealings in Iran over the past decade, for example.
He gave U.S. officials a 22-page statement after his Feb. 28 arrest in Jordan, according to prosecutors.
Bearded and balding, Abu Ghaith said little during the 15-minute hearing in U.S. District Court in New York — in lower Manhattan only blocks from Ground Zero — and displayed none of the finger-wagging or strident orations that marked his propaganda in the days after 9/11.
Through an interpreter, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan asked whether he understood his rights. Abu Ghaith nodded and said, “Yes.” Asked whether he had money to hire an attorney, he shook his head and said, “No.”
Bail was not requested, and none was set. Abu Ghaith's lawyer declined comment after the hearing.
The White House clashed with Republicans over the decision to prosecute Abu Ghaith in a civil court in New York rather than holding him at Guantanamo.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have said that the White House's decision “will not go unchallenged.”
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused President Obama of putting his desire to close Guantanamo ahead of security needs.
But the White House spokesman Josh Earnest brushed aside McConnell's claim. “With all due respect, that's not the assessment of the intelligence community,” Earnest said.
Earnest, the deputy press secretary, said the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security agreed that Abu Ghaith be tried in a civilian court.
“This is somebody who is going to be held accountable for his crimes and it will be done in accordance with the laws and values of this country.”