Osama bin Laden's relative faces trial in U.S. despite criticism

Here and Now

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, left, appears in a video with Osama bin Laden in 2001. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera.)

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a senior al-Qaida leader and Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, appeared in a New York City courtroom Friday.

Abu Ghaith is charged with plotting against Americans in his role as al-Qaida's top propagandist. Through his lawyer, Abu Ghaith pleaded not guilty.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Ghaith appeared in videos praising the attacks and warning of more attacks in the future. Last month, he was detained in Turkey and ultimately taken into U.S. custody in Jordan.

Greg Miller, a reporter covering national security for The Washington Post, says Abu Ghaith is a native of Kuwait who arrived in Afghanistan in 2000, a year or so before the Sept. 11 attacks. 

"(Abu Ghaith) obviously ingratiated himself quickly with the group and cemented his ties with its founder Osama bin Laden by marrying his eldest daughter," he said.

Capturing Abu Ghaith is significant, because he's the closest relative of bin Laden's to be detained by the U.S. in connection with the 9//11 attacks.

Abu Ghaith wasn't seen as an operational figure in al-Qaida, Miller says, but in one of the videos bin Laden is seen meeting with Abu Ghaith and another cleric discussing the significance of the plot for the 9/11 attacks.

"So, that tells you (Abu Ghaith) was not a central planner for al-Qaida. And he spent most of the last ten years hiding in Iran," he said.

But there is criticism of Abu Ghaith being tried in a U.S. court. Some Republicans say he should be tried at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. 

Although President Barack Obama's administration hasn't succeeded in closing Guantanamo, Miller says, they're against adding any more prisoners. Over the past several years the administration has brought other defendants to New York for trial.

"The circumstances under which Abu Ghaith was brought to New York were more interesting because he sort of shows up before anything is made public about his arrest overseas. But clearly, the White House failed to win its effort to have Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other senior al-Qaida operatives who are being held at Guantanamo tried in New York," he said.

Abu Ghaith's trial comes at an interesting time for the Obama administration, Miller says, because in the last two months there's been increasing pressure over drone use.

"This is an administration that has been accused of killing terrorists instead of catching them because it doesn't know what to do with them when it catches them. So, this helps the administration counter that argument. Now we have another al-Qaida figure in custody going to trial in a federal court in New York," he said.

Abu Ghaith's trail date will be announced April 8. Prosecutors estimate the trail will last about three weeks.