Severe Sentences for al Qaeda Spokespersons: Son Targeted
Life in Prison for Association with Shaykh Osama bin Laden
by Karin Friedemann [Boston]
Suleiman Abu Ghaith has not been accused of having a role in the plot to attack the World Trade Center or of knowing about it, but on September 8, 2014, he was sentenced by federal court in Manhattan to life in prison for associating with and disseminating messages on behalf of Osama bin Laden.
Abu Ghaith's attorney, Stanley Cohen argued that Mr. Abu Ghaith was an Islamic theologian, speaking for Muslims more broadly and had not been specifically referring to Al Qaeda in the videos. Cohen said the prosecution had "gone out of its way to exploit the anguish and pain of 9/11 to fill an enormous evidentiary vacuum," making it "literally impossible for a jury of New Yorkers to look objectively" at the case.
"The government opened with 70 references to 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. They closed with 167 references to Osama bin Laden and 9/11. During the cross examination of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith you saw a ten minute video of the World Trade Center on fire."
In early 2013 Abu Ghaith reportedly testified that he described being consulted by Bin Laden on the night after the 9/11 attacks for his opinion. Abu Ghaith testified that he told Bin Laden that "America, if it was proven that you were the one who did this, will not settle until it accomplishes two things: to kill you and topple the state of Taliban."
On September 12 he agreed to Bin Laden's request that he make a public statement. Bin Laden said, "I am going to give you some points and you build around them that speech."
The US indictment states that on September 12, 2001, Abu Ghaith, appearing with, among others, Bin Laden and Bin Laden's then-deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, spoke on behalf of al Qaeda and warned the United States and its allies that "a great army is gathering against you" and called upon the "nation of Islam" to do battle against "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans." Abu Ghaith addressed the US Secretary of State, warning that "the storms shall not stop, especially the Airplanes Storm" and advised Muslims, children, and opponents of the United States "not to board any aircraft and not to live in high rises."
He attributed the Sept. 11 attacks to the United States' policies toward Muslims. "The American people must know that they bear full responsibility."
"There are clear requirements under the law. You know, if you want to turn around and indict people for words, there's about 270 Congressmen and women right now that have said some pretty incendiary things about a lot of things, maybe we should start there," Cohen said.
"From the very beginning, this case was wrapped in a shroud of secrecy, and an inability to get access to people."
Cohen said the judge refused to allow the defense to introduce testimony from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who pled guilty to being the "mastermind" of 9/11 and is detained at Guantánamo Bay. Cohen had argued that Mohammed, with his unsurpassed knowledge of Qaeda operations, could help clear his client. That the government does not consider Mohammed's testimony to have relevance certainly sheds doubt upon Mohammed's testimony, which was obtained under torture.
Cohen had sought a sentence of 15 years for his client, saying that a life sentence would be "the harshest of penalties for talk — and only talk." Comparing Abu Ghaith to "an outrageous daytime 'shock-radio' host," Cohen emphasized that his client had played no role in specific acts of terrorism.
Asked whether he had ever taken part in any plan to kill Americans or anyone else, Abu Ghaith said no. He had hoped that his speeches and videos would have led the United States to say, "Let's go and sit down and talk and solve this problem."
Abu Ghaith also testified that Bin Laden wanted him to lecture in the Qaeda camps because the trainees had a "hard life."
"I need you to change that," Bin Laden told him. He said Bin Laden wanted him to make them be merciful.
US prosecutor, Michael Ferrara taunted Abu Ghaith, "You're telling this jury that Bin Laden asked you to speak at those training camps where men were armed and learning how to use guns because he wanted you to talk about mercy?"
"Yes," Mr. Abu Ghaith replied.
Abu Ghaith's assets have been seized by the US government.
On September 19, 2014 Adel Abdul Bary another Islamic media spokesperson, who was extradited from the UK to the US, accepted a plea bargain to get a reduced sentence of 25 years, 14 of which he has already served in prison. The US government dropped his murder charges in exchange for his guilty plea.
Abdel Bari was accused of issuing statements on behalf of Egyptian Islamic Jihad to several press organizations. His indictment states that Bary "transmitted, via international telephone calls to the media, the contents of al Qaeda's claims of responsibility for the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 224 people. The next day, he transmitted threats of future attacks by the same terrorists, to media organizations in France, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Bary additionally arranged for messages to be transmitted to and from members of the media to his co-conspirators, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The FBI now claims that the defendant's son, Abdel-Majed Abdel Bari, an amateur rapper who became religious, is the masked man in the beheading videos of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker John Haines.