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Terror Trials Test Prosecutors

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Terror Trials Test Prosecutors

Three Cases Could Boost, or Harm, Effort to Use Civil Courts, Not Military Ones

By CHARLES LEVINSON, WSJ, Mar. 3, 2014

“NEW YORK—The trial of Osama bin Laden son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is set to open Monday in Manhattan federal court, kicking off what looks to be one of the biggest years for terrorism prosecutors since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The trial of the alleged al Qaeda spokesman—who appeared alongside bin Laden in a video the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—is the first of three marquee terrorism cases slated for the federal courthouse in coming months.

The others include prosecutions of Abu Anas al-Libi, grabbed by U.S. forces in Libya last year, for allegedly planning the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, and Abu Hamza al-Masri, the firebrand preacher from London who stands accused of plotting to open a terrorist training camp in Oregon and kidnapping Americans in Yemen. All three men have pleaded not guilty.

The trials will refocus attention on terrorism as the U.S. winds down military operations in Afghanistan and fall’s elections loom. They also are a major test for prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Speedy trials that result in convictions would further the case for using civilian courts rather than the military commissions set up to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. attorney’s office was slated to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2009, but protests by New York officials and many in Congress forced the Obama administration to reverse course. He remains in Guantanamo Bay awaiting a trial by a military commission….”

“…U.S. commandos nabbed Mr. Libi, 49 years old, from his home outside Tripoli in a dawn raid last October. They whisked him to a U.S. warship and spent a week interrogating him before handing him off to federal authorities in New York.

The shipboard interrogations took place before Mr. Libi was read his Miranda rights or granted access to a lawyer. Only later did a “clean team” from the Federal Bureau of Investigation question him, abiding by legal rules and procedures customarily afforded a suspect after arrest.

Such “two step interrogations” are relatively new and haven’t been fully litigated in terrorism cases, legal experts said. The admissibility of potentially significant evidence could hang in the balance depending on how the court rules, they said….”

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