U.S. Prosecutor: Al Qaeda Spokesman Made 'Extensive Post-Arrest Statements'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Al Qaeda’s top propagandist after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks had his 15 minutes in federal court  on Friday.

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was arraigned on a terror charge just blocks from the World Trade Center site, CBS 2’s Don Dahler reported.

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Security is always tight at the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, but on Friday it was ratcheted up even higher, because a man who was in contact with the highest levels of Al Qaeda was present.

“Abu Ghaith has been carefully tracked by the U.S. intelligence community for more than a decade,” said CBS News senior correspondent John Miller.

Moving slowly in a blue prison jumpsuit and shackles, with his thinning hair and greying beard, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith looked markedly different than he did in a video released the day after the 9/11 attacks, when, while sitting beside his father-in-law, Abu Ghaith enthusiastically praised the murder of thousands of innocent Americans and promised there would be more.

His voice was much more restrained in court, as he answered questions from the judge through a translator and pleaded not guilty to the charges he conspired to kill Americans.

U.S. prosecutor John P. Cronan said Abu Ghaith was arrested overseas on Feb. 28 and was brought to the United States the next day. He said the Al Qaeda spokesman made “extensive post-arrest statements” to authorities that totaled 22 pages and that they have DVDs and audio tapes of the 47-year-old that will be part of the evidence.

But not everyone was celebrating his appearance in court.

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“The last thing in the world we want to do, in my opinion, is bring him in, put them in civilian court. This man should be in Guantanamo Bay,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Because at Gitmo, enhanced interrogation methods could be used to get vital intelligence.

“He’s not a big fish, but he’s not a little fish. And you know when you catch these guys, they may lead you to the bigger fish,” New York Sen. Charles Schumer said.

But the Obama administration said using federal court may be a quicker path to justice.

“In Gitmo they’re still in hearings after years and years trying to figure out how to get to a trial. And that system is one that moves slowly and not terribly efficiently,” CBS News’ Miller said.

Abu Ghaith’s attorney did not request bail during the arraignment, nor, given the seriousness of the charges, does any observer expect it to ever be granted.

Court experts said the trial will likely last about three weeks.

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