Sequester Scare Tactics

Bin Laden's son-in-law’s defense team cites sequester in delay request

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith / AP
April 9, 2013

Attorneys for Osama bin Laden’s terrorist son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith have asked a federal judge to postpone his controversial trial, blaming the delay on sequestration.

Abu Ghaith, who served as one of Osama bin Laden’s spokesmen for the Sept. 11 attacks, is facing a civilian trial for conspiring to kill Americans. At a Monday hearing, Abu Ghaith’s public defense attorneys argued that the trial be delayed until January 2014 because of federal budget cuts and mandatory furloughs.

Manhattan Federal Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, a Clinton appointee, had proposed the trial begin next September. He called the request "stunning" at the hearing.

"It is extremely troublesome to contemplate the possibility of a case of this nature being delayed because of sequestration," Kaplan said. "Let me say only that."

New York’s chief public defender David Patton told the Washington Free Beacon that his attorneys are facing five-and-a-half-week furloughs before September because of the sequestration cuts. Patton said the furloughs are being implemented "across the board" for attorneys, regardless of the magnitude of the case, in order "to be fair."

Attorney General Eric Holder warned lawmakers that sequestration cuts would cause massive gridlock in the criminal justice system in a February letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"Combined with the impact sequestration would have on the federal judiciary and the other federal, state and local agencies that are part of the criminal justice system, the reductions to DOJ would delay or deny access to justice for millions of Americans," Holder wrote.

Republicans say much of the alleged fallout from sequestration is being exaggerated for political reasons. The Obama administration has canceled White House tours, threatened to close air traffic control towers, and shut down the Department of Defense’s military tuition assistance program because of the budget cuts.

"Taking the sequester scare tactics to a new level, now it appears we'll have a confessed al Qaeda member sitting in an NYC jail and eating up taxpayer dollars while he waits out a manufactured delay in a trial that shouldn't have been held on U.S. soil in the first place," Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Free Beacon.

Republicans have blasted the Obama administration’s decision to try Abu Ghaith in civilian court instead of a military tribunal, arguing that the United States is losing valuable intelligence information and risking national security by treating captured foreign terrorists like garden variety criminals.

Abu Ghaith was captured in Jordon in late February and extradited to the U.S. last month.

"We are disturbed by the administration's decision to bring Sulaiman Abu Ghaith—a foreign member of al Qaeda charged with conspiring to kill Americans—to New York for trial in federal court," said Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), John McCain (R., Ariz.), and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) in a joint statement. "The Obama administration's lack of a war-time detention policy for foreign members of al Qaeda, as well as its refusal to detain and interrogate these individuals at Guantanamo, makes our nation less safe."

"We are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliated groups, and America's detention policy must reflect that reality," the senators said.

Abu Ghaith has appeared in al Qaeda propaganda videos with bin Laden and issued a fatwah against "Jews, Americans and all their allies" a week after the Sept. 11 attacks. He is married to one of bin Laden’s daughters.

Federal public defense attorneys, who fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal courts, have said the sequestration cuts and furloughs will have a devastating impact on their work.

However, a guidance released by the Office of Personnel Management earlier this month said agencies have flexibility in determining which employees will be furloughed, based on mission priorities and other factors.

"Agencies are responsible for identifying the employees affected by administrative furloughs based on budget conditions, funding sources, mission priorities (including the need to perform emergency work involving the safety of human life or protection of property) and other factors," said the guidance.

Kaplan declined to set a trial date at Monday’s hearing.