Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s attorneys said in papers in Manhattan federal court that their client is charged in a flawed document that fails to adequately explain how he was part of a conspiracy to kill Americans. They said the statute of limitations had expired and that he was denied due process.
They also said he was interrogated at length during a 14-hour flight to the United States earlier this year during which “he was subjected to a variety of deprivation techniques and harsh treatment which constitute torture.”
Abu Ghaith, 47, has been held without bail since he was brought to the United States in March to face charges that he conspired against Americans in his role as al-Qaida’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks. Authorities say he had appeared in propaganda videos that warned of further assaults against the United States as devastating as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people. Abu Ghaith, who has pleaded not guilty, would be the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to stand trial on U.S. soil since 9/11.
In an affidavit filed to support a request to suppress a 22-page statement he made to authorities, the Kuwaiti-born Abu Ghaith said he left Afghanistan in 2002 and entered Iran, where he was arrested in mid-year and held by elements of the Republican Guard before he was detained in prisons and interrogated extensively. He said he was told by Iranian government officials that the U.S. government was aware he was being held in jail in Iran and that Iran had turned over a number of prisoners to the United States already.
Abu Ghaith said he was released from Iranian custody on Jan. 11, when he entered Turkey, where he was detained and interrogated before he was released on Feb. 28. He said he was heading home to Kuwait on a plane to see family when the flight landed instead in Amman, Jordan, where he was handcuffed and turned over to American authorities.
He said he had learned through other detainees and news sources over the years that the U.S. had engaged in waterboarding, beatings, freezing rooms, sleep deprivation, electrical shocking, the use of dogs and noise torture, humiliation while naked and other practices.
“I believed that I was now in American custody, and I anticipated increasing degrees of physical and psychological torture, which terrified me,” he wrote.
He said he was kept naked on the plane for several minutes as a man in military clothing photographed his body.
“I was terrified, and I saw that there were several men on board, and at least one woman present, who observed me while I was naked from her location behind a partially-drawn curtain at the front of the plane,” Abu Ghaith said.
He said he was interrogated over the next 13 hours with a few breaks in a cold plane. He said he was only given a small bottle of water and one orange to eat. He said he soiled his clothing and feet and urinated on the floor when he tried to relieve himself in the plane’s restroom while handcuffed as a soldier watched.
“The soldier shouted and cursed at me in English and made threatening gestures, and I was made to kneel and clean up the urine from the floor using bits of paper, while my hands were shackled at my waist. It was terrifying to be confined in a small airplane toilet cleaning the floor while the soldier yelled at me and threatened me,” he said.