The year 2014 could be one of the biggest ever in bringing terrorists to justice. Beginning March 3, Manhattan’s federal court was the scene of the first of many trials scheduled for the upcoming year. In this case, the accused terrorist on trial is Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden. As an al-Qaeda spokesman, Abu Ghaith appeared alongside bin Laden in a video on the day following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Abu Ghaith is the highest ranking al-Qaeda figure to face trial on US soil, noted the newspaper USA Today, and is charged with conspiring “to kill Americans and support terrorists in his role as al-Qaeda’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks.” Presiding over the trial is US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan. Jurors will remain anonymous.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was born in Kuwait (a country that revoked his citizenship following the 9/11 attacks) and married bin Laden’s oldest daughter, Fatima. He was captured by officials in Jordan while trying to return to Kuwait.
Evidence and counterclaims
Part of the evidence that will be provided jurors about Abu Ghaith will be videos in which he promises more attacks on the United States, post-9/11. In a speech by the terrorist on Oct. 9, 2001, for example, he noted, “The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing, and there are thousands of young people who are as keen about death as Americans are about life.” There are also several videos of Abu Ghaith with al-Qaeda Leader Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda’s number two in command.
In response to the charges leveled against Abu Ghaith, it is expected that defense lawyers will state that this is a case of mistaken identity and that the US government is confusing Abu Ghaith with another Guantanamo Bay prisoner with a similar name. Abu Ghaith’s lawyers also want to enlist support from “professed 9/11 mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to bolster their case for a non-guilty verdict, according to USA Today.
Other trials scheduled for this year
The trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is the just the first of three important terrorist trials scheduled for 2014. The two others will be centered on Abu Anas al-Libi, who many believe was responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224, and Abu Hamza al-Masri, a London leader who “stands accused of plotting to open a terrorist training camp in Oregon and kidnapping Americans in Yemen,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
These trials will be a real test for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Already there has been controversy over using the civilian court system to try the men (all of whom have pleaded “not guilty”), rather than relegating them to military commissions. Many, such as US Representative Peter King (R-NY) believe that these terrorists forfeited any right to a civilian trial by their acts of war. Representative King went on to note that he did not believe that they were entitled to any rights under the US Constitution nor access to the evidence against them.