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Bin Laden son-in-law's lawyers seek interview with Khalid Sheik Mohammed for NY trial

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Lawyers for Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and former spokesman asked a judge Tuesday to let them interview accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed prior to a terrorism trial scheduled to begin this month.

The lawyers for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith filed papers with U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in New York saying that Mohammed was "the most qualified person alive" to tell them whether Abu Ghaith knew of any al-Qaeda terrorist operations or was part of any conspiracy to kill Americans.

Abu Ghaith is set for trial this month on charges that he conspired to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaida's spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks. He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

James Margolin, a prosecutor's spokesman, declined to comment on the defence request.

Attorneys for Abu Ghaith said in court filings that their request to interview Mohammed was based in part on their in-person conversations in November with Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who is believed to have been bin Laden's driver from 1998 until November 2001.

The judge last month gave the lawyers permission to get a videotaped deposition from Hamdan, now in Yemen, because he refuses to travel to the United States. However, attorney Stanley Cohen told the court that Hamdan may no longer be available.

"It is believed that Mr. Mohammed's assistance could be every bit as helpful, if not more so, than the testimony that was expected from bin Laden's former chauffeur," Cohen said. "We believe his testimony would certainly be relevant to the defence of this case, and may very well exculpate Sulaiman Abu Ghaith entirely."

Cohen said Mohammed consented through his lawyer to be interviewed by someone from Abu Ghaith's defence team, but the Department of Defence had not yet given permission. Cohen asked Kaplan to order it.

The lawyers noted that lawyers for Hamdan at his 2008 military commission trial requested and received the opportunity to interview Mohammed prior to Hamdan's trial. They said Mohammed declined to appear at trial to testify but his written answers to questions were read into the record and referenced in closing arguments by both sides.

The lawyers said interviewing Mohammed might be especially useful in responding to government claims that Abu Ghaith had prior knowledge of the failed shoe-bomb airline attack by Richard Reid in December 2001 and another plot to down a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in shoes.

"Because of his intimate and unsurpassed knowledge of the 'shoe bomb' attacks as acknowledged by the government, Mr. Mohammed's information will be uniquely and unquestionably authoritative on the subject of who was involved in, or even had knowledge of, the 'shoe bomb' attacks," the lawyers said. "The defence anticipates that Mr. Mohammed's information will be favourable to Mr. Abu Ghaith."

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