Osama bin Laden’s former secretary, who had been given life in prison for participating in a plot to kill Americans, lost a bid to question FBI agents and witnesses during his resentencing.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan today denied a request by Wadih el-Hage to question “the main FBI agents and witnesses” who testified against him at his 2001 trial. El- Hage, one of four men convicted of conspiring with bin Laden in a global plot to kill U.S. nationals, claimed that prior requests to his lawyers to question the agents had met with resistance.
“My past experience with my lawyers is that they delay my requests to the last minute, then use that as an excuse not to do it, therefore I am writing this letter,” he told the judge.
The same judge set Jan.7 as the trial date for another bin Laden aide, Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, the terrorist leader’s son-in- law and chief spokesman. Abu Ghayth was charged with planning to kill Americans before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He pleaded not guilty last month.
Kaplan said in his ruling today that although El-Hage has the right to make suggestions to his lawyers, he can’t take part in the conduct of his case before the court as long as he is represented by counsel.
“Given the aggressive representation of this defendant by his able counsel, this court declines to permit hybrid representation,” Kaplan wrote.
Three other people were tried with el-Hage and convicted of participating in the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens, and injured more than 4,500. The U.S. presented evidence that El-Hage had been in Africa in 1998 and returned to the U.S. before the bombings occurred. He wasn’t charged in the attacks.
El-Hage, a naturalized American citizen born in Lebanon and educated in the U.S., served as bin Laden’s personal secretary in Sudan in the 1990s. He was convicted of lying to a federal grand jury in New York that was investigating bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
While his conviction was upheld in 2008, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial judge for reconsideration of his life term.
Sam Schmidt, a lawyer for el-Hage who defended him at trial, declined to comment on today’s ruling, saying he hadn’t seen his client’s letter or Kaplan’s decision.
The case is U.S. v. El-Hage, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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