MANHATTAN (CN) - Allowing the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to testify for a convicted al-Qaida propagandist would not have done him any favors, a federal judge said Tuesday, in explanation of his rejection of the witness last month.
On March 26, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith became
the highest-ranking al-Qaida member to be convicted on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Shortly before his trial, Abu Ghaith's lawyer Stanley Cohen fought to admit testimony by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is awaiting a military commission in Guantanamo Bay for plotting those attacks. KSM, as he is known, had agreed to appear for Abu Ghaith's defense via closed-circuit television from the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.
Defense attorneys for Abu Ghaith sent KSM's lawyer 452 deposition questions to determine whether the detainee could speak about anything relevant to the case.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan decided
mid-trial that letting KSM talk would not have helped a jury, and he saved a written account of his reasoning for a post-trial memorandum released Tuesday.
Refusing to "answer all of the questions," KSM instead sent defense attorneys narrative statement that began with a disclaimer, Kaplan wrote.
"There are extensive areas about which I have no knowledge because of the nature of my work with al-Qaida during which I held many different positions during different periods of time and under different conditions," KSM wrote, according to the memo. "Therefore, my answers in these areas will be based upon my general knowledge."
Although Abu Ghaith's lawyers promised that their client lacked advance knowledge of the shoe-bombing plot on U.S. airlines, KSM's testimony would not have helped them make that case, Kaplan added.
Instead, KSM wrote in his deposition that "those tasked with giving statements to the media do not necessarily know all the details of an operations [sic] and are sometimes even unaware of the very existence of the operation," according to the memo.
Kaplan noted that such a statement fell far short of a denial.
"In other words, those tasked with giving statements sometimes do know the details of an operation and sometimes are aware of its existence," Kaplan wrote. "Such a fact would not have been exculpatory. Indeed, quite the contrary."
Some pages later, the judge emphasized "that the proof of defendant's guilt in this case was overwhelming for reasons entirely independent of any awareness of the shoe-bomb plot."
Abu Ghaith had been charged, and ultimately convicted, of material support for terrorism and conspiring to kill U.S. nationals. Prosecutors argued at trial that his appearance in a propaganda video immediately after 9/11 urging more attacks on Americans easily satisfied both counts. Jurors viewed that footage repeatedly, and heard testimony from several witnesses and the defendant, over the course the nearly month-long trial.