Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s Unexpected Testimony in New York Terrorism Trial


On Wednesday, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith (also identified as Sulaiman Abu Ghayth), the Kuwaiti cleric who is on trial in New York accused of terrorism, surprised the court by taking to the witness stand to defend himself.

Abu Ghaith, 48, who was held for over ten years under a form of house arrest in Iran before being freed in Turkey, and, via Jordan, ending up in US custody last year, appeared in broadcasts from Afghanistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks as a spokesman for Al-Qaeda.

He is charged with conspiracy to kill United States nationals, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and providing material support and resources to terrorists — charges that include the claim that he had knowledge of Al-Qaeda’s operations, including plots involving shoe bombs (for which a British man, Richard Reid, was arrested, tried and convicted in 2002). As the New York Times described it, the government “said in court papers that as part of his role in the conspiracy and the support he provided to Al Qaeda, Mr. Abu Ghaith spoke on behalf of the terrorist group, ’embraced its war against America,’ and sought to recruit others to join in that conspiracy.”

Abu Ghaith denies any knowledge of Al-Qaeda’s operations, and on Wednesday, just before the defence rested its case, he “offered an extraordinarily intimate look at [Osama] Bin Laden at the time [of the 9/11 attacks], taking jurors inside his cave in Afghanistan,” as the New York Times put it.

In his testimony, in which he was questioned by his lawyer, Stanley Cohen, Abu Ghaith explained how he had traveled to Afghanistan in June 2001 because of what he described as “a serious desire to get to know the new Islamic government in Afghanistan” — in other words, the Taliban — and described how he was invited to meet bin Laden in Kandahar. At a second meeting, he said, bin Laden “said in your capacity as a sheikh, an imam, and a teacher, we want you to give some lectures and speeches. And to teach at a religious school … that we have.”

Abu Ghaith described the school, in Kandahar, as the Religious Institute (although it was generally known as the Institute of Islamic Studies), whose director was Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, a spiritual advisor to Al-Qaeda, who fell out with bin Laden over the 9/11 attacks, which he opposed.

Abu Ghaith didn’t speak or teach at the school, but, at bin Laden’s request, he did speak at two training camps, and, in response to questioning by Cohen about how bin Laden described the camps, he said, “It was a preparation camp, because as we know in sharia, in the Islamic law, everybody needs to be prepared. Like in any nation need to prepare themselves to be ready.”

Abu Ghaith then returned to Kuwait briefly to collect his wife and his seven children and bring them back to Kandahar, where Abu Hafs found him opportunities to speak at a mosque and where he also met bin Laden again. After some time, however, he became worried that the healthcare facilities were insufficient in Afghanistan for his wife, who was pregnant, and so he arranged for her and the children to leave for Pakistan, and then to return to Kuwait.

Abu Ghaith arrived back in Afghanistan (presumably from Pakistan) on September 7, 2001, just four days before the 9/11 attacks. Cohen asked him about his role at this time:

Q. By the way, from the first time you met Usama Bin Laden through September 8, had he asked you to be a spokesperson for Al Qaeda?

A.  No.

Q.  Did anyone ask you to be a spokesperson for Al Qaeda during that time?

A.  No.

Q.  Did you volunteer to be a spokesperson for Al Qaeda?

A.  When I spoke that title or that position was not there.

Questioned about 9/11, Abu Ghaith explained that he was in Kabul on the day, at the house of a friend called Adil, and that he learned about the attacks “[f]rom the media, from the TV.” Cohen asked him, “Prior to 9/11 did you have any idea that that attack was going to occur?” and he replied, “No. Specifically, no, I didn’t have any idea” — although he later conceded, under cross-examination, that he had heard, in the training camps, that “something” might happen. Michael Ferrara, a prosecutor, asked him, “You knew something big was coming from Al-Qaeda?” and he replied, “Yes.”

Questioned by Stanley Cohen, Abu Ghaith said that, on the evening of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden sent someone to ask him to meet with him. They traveled by car, for two or three hours, into the mountains. Cohen asked him, “Why did you go see Usama Bin Laden after you heard about 9/11?” and he replied, “I went to see him.  I didn’t — I didn’t know the subject which he wanted to see me for, so I went as, as usual. Whenever he asked to see me, I went.” He added that he had met bin Laden six or seven times before 9/11.

Asked to describe what happened when he met bin Laden on this occasion, Abu Ghaith said:

I arrived to that area at night, I believe. I found Usama Bin Laden with another group, a guard, security guard, the number of which was about 20 to 25 people. I found him in a cave inside a mountain in a rough terrain, rough mountain terrain with some villages, some small villages and some bedouins who lived there. Naturally, I greeted him.

He said, Come in, sit down.

He said, Did you learn about what happened?

I said, What do you mean?

He said, The attacks on the United States.

I said, Yes.

He said, We are the ones who did it. What do you expect to happen?

I said, Why are you asking me this question? I don’t know anything about these events.

He said, Well, since you saw, you learned about that huge event, what do you expect to happen?

I said, I am not a military analyst in order to predict.

He said, Well, what’s your take on this as a person in his 30s and have some experience of life?

I said, I don’t have any military expertise to tell you what’s going to happen.

I said, Politically, I said, 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.

He said, You are being too pessimistic.

I said, You asked my opinion, and this is my opinion.

The day after, Abu Ghaith said that, after breakfast, he saw bin Laden having a meeting in a cave with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and Abu Hafs al-Masri (aka Mohammed Atef), Al-Qaeda’s military chief, who was killed in November 2001. “I was not invited to join that meeting,” he said, adding, “I was outside. They sat about half an hour talking. Then he [bin Laden] asked, he called me in.” He continued:

And he said to me: Now, after these events, it’s no secret or it’s not hard it’s a no-brainer to predict what is going to happen. What you expected may actually happen. And I want to deliver a message to the world. And Dr. Ayman also wants to deliver a message. I want you to deliver that message or to address the world.

I said, Well, I am new in this field. I don’t have any experience or any knowledge about the subject. I don’t have any ability to form ideas around that subject.

He said, I am going to give you some points and you build around them that speech.

I said, If you would kindly spare me that mission, it will be better.

He said, No, I insist that you speak. This is your job. You are an imam, you are a speaker, and you will only discuss the religious aspect, which you are familiar with.

I don’t want to hide that I had some convictions that the nature of any conflict, whenever there is an oppression or injustice inflicted on someone that there could be possible reactions. Those reactions could be unpredictable.

Under some of these convictions, I accepted to speak.

Around two hours later, in front of the cave, Abu Ghaith made the speech that was recorded and issued on video. In court, this exchange took place with his lawyer:

Q. Did anyone give you a statement to read as part of that video or any words to use in that video?

A. Other than the bullet points that Usama Bin Laden had given me to build the speech around, no.

Q. When you say bullet points, what do you mean, sir?

A. The points around which I built the speech. He said mention some of the Koranic verses and some hadith, that justify why those attacks happened, the nature of the conflict. These were the points around which I built that speech.

Afterwards, Abu Ghaith said that he spent two to three weeks staying with bin Laden and his entourage, because “the situation at that time after [9/11], the events were very tense and the roadways were extremely dangerous. I did not have any personal means of transportation to move, so I was forced to stay with him with the rest of the group.”

He was also asked about subsequent videos that were made, including one in which he spoke of a “storm of aeroplanes,” and in response to questioning from Cohen, he confirmed that the phrase came from bin Laden, and added, “All the videos which I filmed were the thoughts and the points made by Sheikh Usama” — a point that I thought was particularly telling.

After his time with bin Laden, Abu Ghaith said they all went to Kabul, but then split up, and he stayed somewhere he had stayed previously, although he met with bin Laden again and made three more videos. Then, after no more than a week, he said that the situation in Kabul became insecure, and, like many other people, he then went to Jalalabad, and was eventually smuggled into Pakistan on a 16-hour route through the mountains. There, he said, he briefly met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who he had also met once in Afghanistan, although the meeting only involved “[c]asual talk.”

In connection with the videos Abu Ghaith was involved in making, the following exchange with Cohen also took place:

Q. By the way, when you made these videos, was it your intent to recruit anyone?

A. There’s no one who was capable of recruiting anyone except Usama Bin Laden. My intention was not to recruit anyone.

Q. What specifically was your intention?

A. My intention was to deliver a message, a message that I believed that oppression, if it befalls any nation, any people, any category of people, that category must revolt at some point. People do not accept oppression. They cannot take it. And what happened was a result, as I understand, a natural result for the oppression that befell Muslims. I wanted to proclaim the message that Muslims had to bear responsibility and defend themselves.

Abu Ghaith also responded to questioning about shoe bombs, stating that he had not heard about any plots, and had not heard about or met Richard Reid.

In further questioning, Abu Ghaith explained that, after his arrival in Pakistan, he was then taken to Karachi, and on to Iran, where he was at liberty for five months until the Iranian authorities seized him, and placed him under a form of arrest for over ten years.

As the New York Times put it, “Until Mr. Abu Ghaith took the stand, his lawyers had given no indication that they were going to have their client testify.” As I explained in an article last week, Abu Ghaith’s lawyers had submitted to the court written responses to questions that had been given to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantánamo, and had been hoping to have permission for Mohammed himself to testify from Guantánamo, but the judge, Lewis Kaplan, would not allow his testimony, ruling that the defense had largely failed to establish that Mohammed “has personal knowledge of anything important to this matter.”

The jury is currently deliberating in Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s case, and I will provide an update when they deliver their verdict. In the meantime, as Daphne Eviatar explained in an article for the Huffington Post, “Although the government claims only that [Abu Ghaith] made a handful of speeches for al Qaeda between May 2001 and 2002, it seeks to hold him responsible for the deaths of all Americans Al-Qaeda orchestrated between 1998 and 2013.” She added, “At a conference with the lawyers on Thursday after the defense rested its case, Judge Lewis Kaplan, who’s presided over this trial with a heavy hand since it started earlier this month, confirmed that that’s exactly how he will charge the jury on Monday.”

Although one of Abu Ghaith’s lawyers, Zoe Dolan, had attempted to get the judge to amend the proposed conspiracy charge so that Abu Ghaith couldn’t be held liable for everything Al-Qaeda did over a 15-year period, Judge Kaplan stated that, under US law, even if the jury decides Abu Ghaith only joined the Al-Qaeda conspiracy on September 12, “the defendant still will be held responsible for any acts that happened before he joined the conspiracy.”

As Eviatar stated, “Although I’m a lawyer and I’ve studied criminal justice, the breadth of US conspiracy law still astonishes me every time I hear about it. Its effect, in this case, is to make a Kuwaiti preacher who made a handful of speeches for Al-Qaeda over a few short months in Afghanistan personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of people killed long before he ever came on the scene. There’s no question that if the jury finds he joined the Al-Qaeda conspiracy, he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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35 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to those who have liked and shared this – and I apologize for posting it late yesterday, UK time, but I’d been out at a friend’s birthday dinner and had to complete it and post it on my return.
    I know this story isn’t quite my usual beat, as it doesn’t involve someone who was held at Guantanamo, but that’s part of the reason that it’s such an important trial. Will the jury throw the book at Abu Ghaith, or will they recognize what appears to be his limited role in the story of 9/11?
    One theme that I find troubling, and that hasn’t been mentioned much, is how Abu Ghaith is the only one of the many al-Qaeda-connected people held in Iran under a form of house arrest for a decade who was kidnapped by the US on his release and brought to the US for a trial. It was, of course, important that he wasn’t then sent to Guantanamo – and the Obama administration is to be commended for refusing to bow to right-wing demands that any newly-apprehended terrorism suspect be sent to Guantanamo – but I’m not convinced that Abu Ghaith’s appearance in a few videos after 9/11 justifies the whole process of roping in Turkey and Jordan to get him kidnapped and rendered to America.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Hmm, what did he do in bin-Laden’s training camps before those videos? He knew something big was coming, but didn’t know what. Then, call from Osama bin-Laden was answered. He travelled hours to meet him in the cave. Obviously they were well connected. Very strange Imam. Even in Iran he was under house arrest for 10 years. Why? We don’t know the whole story.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Also, I noticed inconsistencies comparing his testimony and KSM written answers to questions asked about Imam. “There, he said, he briefly met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who he had also met once in Afghanistan, although the meeting only involved “[c]asual talk.” Imam met KSM twice, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while KSM wrote they never met.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    I find both their testimony total lies. The US, with their bungling of anything resembling human rights, has provided a window for them to lie about their involvement, it is so clear from both statements they answer what they want and neglect other things, but their testimony isn’t meshing. How can he say “he knew something big was coming”?? BS, I tell you – he was the al Qaeda mouthpiece, married to one of bin Laden’s daughters, he had to have known what was being planned. KSM denies meeting him, yet he says otherwise. I don’t trust the testimony of either one.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Dejanka and Holly. I suspect that very few people knew what the “something big” was, to be honest, as big plots only tend to work if almost nobody knows about them in detail, nor do I necessarily believe that Abu Ghaith was anything more than a useful mouthpiece after 9/11, identified by bin Laden as someone who could usefully be employed to deliver fiery rhetoric. I also think it’s worth noting that Abu Ghaith didn’t marry bin Laden’s eldest daughter until they were both under house arrest in Iran, in 2008 or 2009.
    If it’s true that he only arrived in Afghanistan in May or June 2001, then I believe the opinion I have of his limited role is validated even more, but we’ll have to wait and see what the jury makes of it, and, if they deliver a guilty verdict, what the judge then decides is appropriate in terms of sentencing.

  6. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy. I agree that Abu Ghaith’s story is a very important one, and your excellent summary here is important — raises important questions.

    I am not a lawyer, but from all the lawyer shows I have seen I think his decision to testify, his lawyer’s decision to let him testify, was unusual. I strongly suspect that his lawyers are convinced that his testimony is absolutely true, that they rehearsed it, so that he would resist the temptation to rewrite his role, minimize his role, because they suspected the prosecutors, judge and jury would guess when he rewrote his role, and this would backfire on him.

    What I found remarkable about his testimony was how consistent it was with my memory of the testimony of individuals at their OARDEC hearings. Specifically you quoted him saying:

    “It was a preparation camp, because as we know in sharia, in the Islamic law, everybody needs to be prepared. Like in any nation need to prepare themselves to be ready.”

    My reading of the OARDEC documents is that this is indeed the official line about the camps. I strongly suspect that while some of the rich Saudis Osama bin Laden hit up for donations understood and agreed with al Qaeda’s true goals, that Osama bin Laden was cynical enough, and sufficently devoted to his cause, to lie to the more moderate rich Saudis, and tell them the camps he ran were mainly intended for muslims who wanted to fulfill their obligation to defend themselves, their family, their tribe, could learn how to do so.

    In retail marketing I think the technique OBL employed is called “bait and switch.”

  7. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, several correspondents are pointing to the apparent discrepancy that KSM says he doesn’t remember meeting Abu Ghaith, while Abu Ghaith remembers having one or two casual conversations with him.

    These meetings, if they occurred, were 13 years ago. Abu Ghaith only spent a brief time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so it is understandable if his memories were more intense than those of KSM.

    KSM first traveled to that region in the late 1980s, and, over the years, may have met dozens or hundreds of visitors who he would have regarded as nobodies. It is hardly surprising if he doesn’t remember one, particularly if they only had a casual conversation.

    KSM was waterboarded, 183 times. I’ll suggest that brutal treatment that included genuine torture, like waterboarding, might drive trivial meetings, over thirteen years ago, where one only had a short casual conversation, out of one’s mind.

    It is possible that KSM is telling the truth, and Abu Ghaith is honestly mistaken. Maybe someone he knows told him about meeting KSM, and with 13 years to confuse him, his memory of the meeting is really his memory of someone else telling him about the meeting. Maybe he met someone like KSM, who, with 13 years to confuse him, he now misremembers as KSM. Maybe he met one of KSM’s nephews who also served as his lieutenants. With 13 years to confuse him, this would be an understandable mistake.

    Given that, if the meeting occurred, it was over thirteen years ago, two inconsistent accounts is not a sign of conspiracy, collusion or deceit.

  8. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, you quoted Abu Ghaith explaining how he came to be staying with Osama bin Laden on September 12th, 2001, and for several weeks afterwards. It was during this period he made videos.

    “the situation at that time after [9/11], the events were very tense and the roadways were extremely dangerous. I did not have any personal means of transportation to move, so I was forced to stay with him with the rest of the group.”

    Reading between the lines, I think he experienced a measure of Stockholm Syndrome. He is a religious man — not a fighter, and yet he finds himself at the camp of the most wanted fighter on planet Earth. He can’t leave. He has to rely on them for food. Everyone he meets is devoted to attacking America. Everyone he meets acts like he too assumes he too is devoted to attacking America. What happens to a visiting cleric on September 14, or September 15, who won’t record a video of the kind Osama bin Laden wants? Maybe OBL has Abu Hafs drive him away, with most people being told he is being driven to the nearest bus stop, but instead, when he gets out of earshot, Abu Hafs shoots him?

  9. arcticredriver says...

    At a certain point, as I read through the passages you quoted from Abu Ghaith’s testimony, I thought of nonviolent civil disobediene, of Ghandi, of Martin Luther King, and the Freedom Marches he lead. I also thought of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X.

    This was the passage that got me comparing Martin Luther King’s followers with those of Osama bin Laden was this one:

    ‘I don’t want to hide that I had some convictions that the nature of any conflict, whenever there is an oppression or injustice inflicted on someone that there could be possible reactions. Those reactions could be unpredictable.’

    Looking back at the US Civil Rights struggles of forty and fifty years ago I don’t think there is any question but that the initiatives led by Martin Luther King, and the other leaders who shared his commitment to confining themselves to non-violent means were much more effective than those of the black panthers.

    Way back when I was a very young teenager, and had seen some World War 2 movies, as well as that monumental 26 part BBC series “The World at War”, I thought about groups like the French Resistance. They were militant objectors to German occupation and to the puppet government in Vichy. Most of the kinds of operations they were shown conducting in Hollywood produced World War 2 movies involved violations of the Geneva Conventions. The Germans were not obliged to treat them as POWs. The Germans could have tried any they caught. They could have tried them swiftly, in military courts, with conviction likely, and a death sentence to follow, all while sticking strictly within the Geneva Conventions.

    For the Germans to retaliate against nearby civilians, who they thought were merely sympathetic to the resistance, was also a war crime. I decided then, that if I lived in a country that was subjected to a brutal foreign occupation, I would forgo any temptation I might feel to join a resistance group that used violence. I decided I didn’t have the right to expose my neighbours to retaliation.

    That “World at War” series documented a French village, where German forces herded the entire village’s population into the local church, all 100 or so of them, locked the doors, and burned them to death as an act of retaliation against the local resistance. Sadly, the USA committed the same kinds of acts of retaliation in Vietnam and in Afghanistan — with even less excuse than the Germans had. (Following World War 2 it was generally recognized that the first three Geneva Conventions had an enormous gap in coverage, and so the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 specifically addresses how civilians should be treated in war zones. The USA signed this, so acts like the aerial bombardment of Lejay, Helmand, on 2003-02-11, was a wildly disproportionate use of force against a village where ground forces had already arrested the dozen men they thought had fired weapons the day before, was a terrible war crime.)

    Some years later I had a conversation with a friend of mine, who argued against my plan to either use non-violent civil disobedience, or meeky render unto Caesar. He argued that civil disobedience would only work in a society with enough freedom that people would hear when authorities reacted to peaceful protest with disproportionate violence. He argued that, in a situation like that, violence was justified.

    He suggested that, in the wrong kind of state, a guy like Martin Luther King would not survive his first attempt to lead a demonstration, and no one would have heard of him.

    I still don’t agree with him, or with Abu Ghaith. But I think mine is a minority view.

    I think most Americans, if they saw a movie loosely based on Guantanamo, but they didn’t recognize it as based on Guantanamo — where the captives were all Americans, being held for years without charge, or even a reasonable explanation — they would cheer any time the film showed an American captive defying his captors.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I find it difficult to see this case as Imam who was only a preacher. He saw the devastation what they did to innocent Americans and other nationalities that day – 3000 people died, yet he made a video to justify the carnage. Not only one video, but several. Perhaps he didn’t know what was going to happen, only those involved did, but making videos was important to deliver the message and to recruit new members to carry on terrorist activities. When I say “terrorist” I mean Bush, Blair and their war criminal friends should sit together at the similar courts charged with the same crime against innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s irrelevant to me when he came to Afghanistan. He could have been recruited by Al-Qaeda while in Kuwait. 19 pilots recruited by AQ to carry these terrorist attacks were not from Afghanistan either. In fact, many from Saudi Arabia, and several from other countries.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I care very much about the USA justice system that became total farce regarding Guantanamo prisoners. Many of them were sold by corrupt Pakistanis to CIA, detained, tortured and rendered to 51 CIA black sites. At the end, finished in that legal hell-hole of Guantanamo with no charges or trials after a decade or longer. This Imam was under house arrest for 10 years in Iran. Why? I want to know. It can’t be to protect him from the CIA wrongdoings, as they did to Iran in the past? Where is the background of that story?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Dejanka,
    Yes, it’s interesting that he managed to articulate a defense for fighting back against oppression, but not for the specific and horrific reality of 9/11. It seems to me that he was dazzled by bin Laden, and although that doesn’t justify his role as a spokesman, of course, it might help to explain why he became so involved.
    As for Iran, there were dozens of Al-Qaeda figures who fled to Iran after 9/11 who were held for around ten years and then released. In all but Abu Ghaith’s case, these men were sent home, beyond the reach of the US, but Abu Ghaith, as I understand it, was deprived of his citizenship, hence he was released in Turkey, where US intelligence became aware of him, and the arrangement was made to pretend to return him to Kuwait, but in fact to kidnap him in Jordan and render him to the US for trial.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, arcticredriver, for your thoughts on Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s testimony, and what it may or may not mean. I am glad you recognize its importance.
    The view of the camps expressed in his testimony reminded me of Noor Uthman Muhammed’s description of Khaldan as a place where people got training, but were then free to go home and to decide for themselves what it meant to them. Personally, I think that most of the camps’ purpose was either for this general “preparation” or specific training for the Taliban, but at some places there were those leeching on the recruits, seeking out those who might do more.
    With KSM, I also had the feeling that he might have briefly met but not paid much attention to Abu Ghaith, reinforcing my feeling that Abu Ghaith, in contrast, was somewhat starstruck in his meetings with the leadership of al-Qaeda.
    Thanks also for the reminder of “The World at War,” a hugely important part of my education – and my pacifism – which I watched when it came out, when I was 10 years old. I had forgotten that horrible story about the village until you mentioned it.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote, in response to 12, above:

    That can explain that Kuwait didn’t want him after his famous videos made under instructions of Osama bin-Laden. But intelligence of Kuwait worked with CIA so they finally let him come back to Kuwait, knowing he would be arrested in Jordan, which also works with CIA to combat terrorism. This Imam Sulaiman Abu Ghaith seems to me not innocent at all. What he has done is far from Islamic teaching. All my decent Muslim friends denounced that horrific act of killing 3000 innocent people in America. I doubt they would sit for long listening to some Imam justifying the murder of any innocent civilian if they truly believe in God. What an Imam sending his pregnant wife with six children back to Kuwait and marrying Osama bin-Laden’s daughter while under house arrest for 10 years in Iran? I guess, according to Islamic teaching, he provided them all with his income. Or, was it Al-Qaeda paying their expenses? Remains to be seen what is the story of his house arrest in Iran, no?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    Although he wasn’t the son-in-law yet, he was right next to bin Laden the next day, publicizing the attacks. How can anyone believe a word he says? His testimony conflicts with other testimony from KSM, so you know one or both is lying. So-the US process has not been perfect, but here we are well-meaning people, getting duped by these monsters.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    And, this is important. All the conspiracy theorists who think Al Qaeda didn’t plan these attacks are out of their minds. These trials and what happens here is important, because alot of people died (the ones who died on 9/11 and the innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq and everywhere else who died because of this one event). There are ALWAYS people who hate the government and think they are the bastards behind everything. Having the prisoners at Guantanamo mistreated and jailed for all these years without trial is HORRIFIC and it gives them total ammunition to blame the government for all of it, rage and anger at them. But, don’t lost sight of the horribly evil people who started it, planned it, all in the name of ‘jihad’, which any true muslim knows is untrue, it was only the excuse they used to vent rage/anger at us. It’s beyond my comprehension to think for a second that Abu Ghaith didn’t help plan the attacks on 9/11. It is important that this trial work properly. Let him say all he wants and match to everybody else’s statements and the facts and the lies will magnify. I am so curious what the verdict will be.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Dejanka and Holly. We shall see what the verdict is. You both make very good points. I don’t think anyone’s really got to the bottom of the house arrests in Iran, Dejanka, but I’d see it more as Iran snubbing the US than anything else. Remember that the Iranian government is really not going to get cosy with Al-Qaeda, given the way each views the other from the Sunni/Shia divide.
    Regarding Abu Ghaith, I continue to think that he was, essentially, played by bin Laden, and didn’t have any kind of operational knowledge, which doesn’t excuse him for anything he did, but does put his actions in a certain kind of context. And regarding the verdict, as Daphne Eviatar pointed out in the article I linked to, if the jury convict him of conspiracy, he will get a very long sentence.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    Let’s see what happens. I guess I find it hard to believe he was there to help take credit the next day if he didn’t know what was going to happen…that makes no sense to me at all. And – I don’t know if anyone remembers this – the American media, on the morning of 9/11, reported that a ‘caller from Dubai’ was claiming credit for the attacks on behalf of a Palestinian liberation group. We discovered later that day, it was not the case at all, and it didn’t even make sense. UBL had some actual PRIDE in this awful attack, made sure to let the world know al Qaeda did it, even issued videos of how the hijackers had been trained. As the ‘PR” guy, Abu Ghaith surely helped put those out and knew beforehand. And, let me say – these guys are doing what all criminals do when they are interrogated…I can see it in how they answer and what they choose to answer. Re-read KSM’s testimony – he never answers every question directly, there is always a tap dance around it, if not an avoidance. When he does answer directly, it always places him at greater distance from another conspirator or a layer of insulation so he can claim ‘he doesn’t know”. Abu Ghaith is giving contradictory answers. They have slipped up. They have not been together to get their stories straight, but are clinging to an agreed upon narrative, in my opinion. When I have some time, I will read them again. But, there is no consistency between all their stories and lots of puff about their religion on some of the questions. Pure lies. No honorable and true muslims I know do this.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Of course, Holly, we all agree, as Dejanka said too, that no decent people – Muslim or otherwise – would try to justify killing 3,000 people or would try to glorify it. You may well be right about Abu Ghaith, but I still think he may have been used and knew little about what was going on. I remain convinced that a terrorist attack like 9/11 requires as few people as possible to know what is going on, to make sure that it can’t be derailed.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    Andy, let me ask you something: if one was ‘used’ for something as heinous and horrible as 9/11, wouldn’t one distance themselves and do everything possible to get leniency or turn in the fellows who actually did it by providing real information? He hasn’t exactly been cooperative.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Agastyan Daram wrote:

    I would take his words as matter of fact.. Its all history now. He was one of the story tellers of this piece of history. It is interesting to read all the same. The truth behind history comes from putting together a picture created by all the story tellers involved and present.. I think it is more important for us to learn the actual story then put this issue to rest than digging to the personal guilt of all of these individuals.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m not sure about him not being cooperative, Holly. He clearly doesn’t wish to apologize for his involvement. The question for me is what the extent of that involvement was, and I continue to think that he wasn’t a planner, but was some sort of cheerleader. I think the question about his testimony is whether it will persuade a jury – and if your analysis is anything to go by, then he’s completely failed.
    And Agastyan, thanks for your comments. I believe you’ve captured something of what drew my attention to this case – an attempt to find out what actually happened. I like your comment, “The truth behind history comes from putting together a picture created by all the story tellers involved and present.”

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Thanks Andy. I would decide “Not Guilty”.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    I still don’t know what’s the difference between planes storming into USA buildings and indiscriminate bombing of Baghdad, Kandahar and other places in both countries with far more victims. Whenever Blair appears on TV he continuously justifies murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis saying he would do it again for the same reason. He is the greatest PR of war-mongering military industrial complex, together with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Too many unemployed youngsters were recruited by the Army in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. I saw them, talked to them in London pub the day when we went to demonstrate against this shameful war based on horrific lies. But, in our democratic world it is called freedom of speech. This trial in New York is important to see how far Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Of course, there are categories excluded from the freedom of speech. I doubt Imam Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was directly involved in planning and executing the attacks, but his role as UBL’s marketing expert is being tested in federal court. He is a foreigner, not the USA citizen. If he was found guilty so should Bush and Blair, and their war-criminal friends, far more involved in planning and execution of the mass murdering of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wishful thinking.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Well said Dejanka.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Ann. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen you. And thanks, Dejanka, for that very balanced opinion – of what is being tested in Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s trial (including, as you say, the first amendment) and how that can be compared to what the US, UK and others did and/or are still doing in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. As I’m sure you can tell, I too have no time whatsoever for Tony Blair and his apparently endless attempts to justify his and Bush’s warmongering, and his perpetual refusal to even acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of civilians who died as a result of their actions. I suspect Abu Ghaith will get the book thrown at him, and I understand why many people will regard that as acceptable, even though I think it may end up being a disproportionate punishment for a short-term propagandist, but it seems we wait in vain for our own leaders to be held accountable for their own terrorism.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Guilty Andy after the jury deliberated for 5 hours. Can tell a lot of thought went in to this verdict!

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ann. I guess that’s going to mean a life sentence, then. The New York Times reported: “Mr. Abu Ghaith was convicted of three counts: conspiracy to kill Americans, for which he could face life in prison; and providing material support to terrorists, as well as conspiring to do so, counts that each carry maximum terms of 15 years.”

  29. arcticredriver says...

    Holly Marie, you wrote:

    So-the US process has not been perfect, but here we are well-meaning people, getting duped by these monsters.

    I’m sorry, but I am not prepared to give people a pass for committing crimes, because they are “well-meaning people”.

    I left a comment to one of Andy’s recent articles where I described the sweet elderly Professor emeritus I knew, who had gone to Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, and volunteered to fight in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Why did he volunteer, and put his life on the line, to fight in Spain? Because he strongly believed it was important to fight fascism. I didn’t mention earlier that he was jewish, but he was, and knew that jews in Germany faced terrible conditions, and Franco was Germany’s ally.

    My lovely Professor was a well-meaning person, fighting for a cause he believed in. Even so, if he had been drawn in to an atrocity, a war crime, I would want him to have a fair trial — without regard to how well-meaning his intentions were.

    In the months after 9/11, when we heard how many Arabs had traveled to Afghanistan to volunteer to fight against Afghanistan’s Soviet occupiers, because they thought that was an instance where they thought muslims were being oppressed by non-muslims. I thought about them, and compared them to my lovely Professor. Fighting fascists because they oppressed jews and fighting Soviets because they oppressed muslims? I thought was there an objective measure by which we could consider one kind of volunteering legitimate, and the other illegitimate? I decided there was not.

    Now Guantanamo, and the USA’s other military prisons, and the CIA’s torture prisons — they were one big Milgram experiment. Stanley Milgram was the psychologist, from Stanford, who conducted an experiment, where he took a pool of student volunteers, offered to pay them for a week or two of their time, and then arbitrarily divided them up into prisoners and guards. He wanted to see how quickly the guards would resort to cruelty in order to enforce order. The alarming result was that ordinary, decent University students quickly resorted to a lot more cruelty and malice than the experimenters anticipated.

    Andy has let me tell the story of Lewis Welshofer, a senior NCO who was nominally in charge of the interrogation of an Iraqi Air Force General. (I say nominally, as there was a CIA officer present, who was giving suggestions, and, even though the General was technically in military custody an objective observer might say the CIA officer was in charge. The trial transcript will prove unsatisfactory on this point as steps were taken to obfuscate the CIA officer’s identity and actual role, in order to protect National Security.)

    Welshofer killed him, while he was being tortured. He killed him in a particular brutal and painful way. He didn’t kill him on purpose, he was merely trying to inflict pain and fear.

    The General was already shackled. Welshofer stuffed him head first into a sleeping bag, trussed up the sleeping bag, and then kneeled on the General’s chest. Previous beatings he had endured during three days of interrogation and sleep deprivation had broken most of the ribs, so having a 200 pound man kneel on his chest didn’t give him the terrifying feeling he was about to suffocate, it actually slowly and painfully suffocated him.

    Why did Welshofer do this? This was before Saddam Hussein had been captured, and some Iraqis were resisting the US occupation. On no evidence whatsoever the US intelligence establishment seized on the notion that all the Iraqis resisting the US occupation were special cadres of fanatical Saddam loyalists, who had been trained to resist an occupation, and who knew the location of secret arms caches Saddam had hidden for them, in case Iraq was ever occupied. Secdef Rumsfeld called them the “dead-enders”. Like the rest of the US intelligence establishment he had loyally and uncritically signed on to the narrative that the resistance was composed of Saddam loyalists, and that, as an Iraqi General, his
    interrogation subject must be a fanatical Saddam loyalist and must know how to find those dead-ender cells and those arms caches.

    One tragic thing about uncritically accepting the narrative that the resistance were Saddam loyalists, and this justified torturing the General, is that the resistance actually got much stronger after Saddam was taken out of the picture. The resistance was not composed of Saddam loyalists. The resistance was composed of nationalists who didn’t like seeing their country occupied. However, most of them were more afraid of Saddam then they were of the USA. They weren’t prepared to resist the occupiers if by doing so they risked making it possible for Saddam to return to power.

    So, in fact, the General wasn’t being uncooperative. He wasn’t a hard case, whose non-cooperation justified using harsher methods of coersion. He genuinely didn’t know how to connect to cells of dead-enders, or how to find their arms caches, because there were no cells of dead-enders and no long-planned arms caches.

    Was Welshofer a “well meaning person”? I don’t think there is any question that Welshofer was well-meaning. Should that have entitled him to a pass for his brutal killing? No, I absolutely do not think it should.

    Yes, Welshofer was tried, and convicted. Sorry, I can’t recall the charges. I do recall the sentence though. Unlike the individuals at Abu Ghraib, whose crimes were much less serious, he was not discharged, he did not receive a drop in rank, nor did he serve any genuine jail time. He was docked two months pay, and was confined to barracks, when off-duty, for two months.

    What the Geneva Conventions require is that the USA should use the same standards and courts when trying its own war criminals as it does when trying foreign war crimes suspects.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I appreciate your comments about that terrible murder in Iraq, although Holly’s comment about “well meaning people” was about people readibng about Abu Ghaith’s case and, as she saw it, being taken in by him and KSM.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    But, Andy, this wasn’t anyone else’s trial, it was Abu Ghaith’s. Should we try our leaders for what they did? Seems horrible enough, doesn’t it?
    And – to everyone here, I want to point out one more thing – Abu Ghaith was tried in U.S. Federal court in a proceeding here on U.S. soil and convicted. A precedent has been set. Some of the trials and charges that have been delayed may now move forward…..

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Has any Muslim been found not guilty in the States?

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting points, Holly and Ann. Holly, I don’t think there has been a problem undertaking trials in US federal courts for people accused of terrorism, unless they’ve been held at Guantanamo and/or in CIA “black sites.” The only man held in CIA “black sites” and Guantanamo and brought to the US mainland for a federal court trial was Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian accused of involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings. Outrageously, pro-Guantanamo Republicans tried to portray the federal court trial as a failure, because the jury refused to see him as anything more than a minor player and only convicted him of one charge out of hundreds. But that was enough t get him a life sentence in a supermax prison. Nevertheless, afterwards, the Republicans conspired to pass legislation preventing any othe rprisoner from being brought from Guantanamo for a federal court trial, even though the military commission system is a broken farce and not fit for purpose, as was pointed out after the Abu Ghaith verdict by John Knefel for Al-Jazeera:
    That said, the problem on the US mainland is that the conviction rate for Muslims accused of terrorism is almost 100 percent, which simply isn’t credible, and indicates that racism is embedded in the system as much as it still is in many places when the accused are black. See:

  34. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy, let me apologize, because I think I wasn’t clear.

    My first point was in response to a point I think Holly Marie was trying to make.
    I think Holly Marie, while acknowledging rule breaking at Guantanamo, was suggesting those rule-breakers merited a pass for their rule-breaking, because they were “well intentioned.” I thought she was suggesting US war crimes should be forgiven on the grounds of being well-intentioned, while the rule-book should be thrown out for the “terrorists”.

    My second point, and perhaps the more important point was that, looked at objectively, the Arab volunteers who traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight Soviet oppression were also “well intentioned”. When the Soviets were the “evil empire”, almost all commentators would have described those volunteers as well-intentioned.

    So, can we say they were “well-intentioned” when the volunteered to fight beside Afghans, but should no longer be characterized as “well intentioned” when they volunteered to fight beside Bosnian muslims during the civil war that ended with Bosnian independence from former Yugoslavia? Volunteering for essentially identical motives characterized as “well intentioned” during the war the CIA sponsored?

    I just think it is a mistake to give any individual a free pass, or lenient treatment, for a crime, on the basis that their motivation was “well intentioned”. Anyone can claim those motivated by their own values, who committed crimes, merits a free pass, on the basis of their good intentions. Holly Marie mentioned moderate muslims she knows, whose good intentions she would recognize. But to some less moderate muslims, the less moderate muslims are apostates. To the less moderate muslims, hard-line believers in applying narrow interpretations of Sharia law to everyone, even non-muslims, it is those they agree with ideologically who merit a free pass or lenient treatment, because they were well intentioned.

    I think it would be best if we could agree to not give anyone a free pass or lenient treatment on the very vague and culturally relative grounds that they were well intentioned.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver, for that thorough explanation of why being “well-intentioned” is a description that is prone to extremely subjective analysis – and therefore untrustworthy.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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