What do you get when you combine a high-profile federal terrorism case with a Manhattan locale? A lot of unintentional hilarity.
So goes the case of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, who faces trial for reportedly conspiring to kill Americans. Following his arraignment, Abu Ghaith was assigned an experienced public defender, but decided he doesn’t want one. Who does he want instead? Stanley L. Cohen.
What’s all the hubbub about? Well….
But the handoff in Mr. Abu Ghaith’s case has been complicated by the fact that Mr. Cohen is under federal indictment in Syracuse and under federal investigation in Manhattan, a judge said in court last week. Mr. Cohen said the investigations were related.
The judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, took Mr. Abu Ghaith through a series of questions to make sure he understood the potential risks and ethical conflicts that might result from hiring Mr. Cohen, because of the lawyer’s own legal difficulties. Mr. Cohen was charged with obstructing the Internal Revenue Service and failing to file certain reports regarding cash transactions. He has pleaded not guilty.
“You understand that if he is found guilty of those charges, he may be sent to jail?” Judge Kaplan said.
“Yes,” Mr. Abu Ghaith replied.
Cohen is what one might call an eccentric. Not only does he believe that the American government has declared war on him, but Cohen also has a record of representing clients in terrorism across the country, including a prominent Hamas leader in 1990s. In addition to the risk that Cohen might go to jail in the middle of representing Abu Ghaith, Cohen might also not be given the security clearance required to see classified materials in the case.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.