A secret operation sometime last week has brought Osama bin Laden's son-in-law to New York, where he will appear this morning under heavy security in a New York federal courtroom. There, the former high-school teacher will answer charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens as a key member of al Qaeda's inner circle.
"Sulaiman Abu Ghayth held a key position in al Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime."
He will stand in court less than a mile from the World Trade Center site of the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attack which claimed about 3,000 lives. After these attacks, Abu Ghaith was shown in two videos online calling for a holy way against America. Since the attacks, he spent years in Iran, most likely transferring personnel and money into Pakistan and continuing to remain part of al Qaeda's senior management.
The extent of his power is contested. Dr. Thomas Lynch at the National Defense University said of Ghaith: "This is not a small fish." Terrorism expert Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden—from 9/11 to Abbottabad directly opposes: "Though he was Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Abu Ghaith is far from a big fish in al Qaeda." After all, Bin Laden had many sons-in-law after fathering around two dozen children with five wives—and Bergen suggests aside from that, Abu Ghaith was not a big player. Lynch counters:
"The catchy title is that he was bin Laden's son-in-law... What he was though was an important spokesman for core al Qaeda," who ran an influential mosque in Kuwait for a decade.
If nothing else, Abu Ghaith's presence in New York, rather than Guantanamo-where other members of bin Laden's inner circle have been sent-is significant. Trying Abu Ghaith in New York allows the Obama administration to keep with their goal of closing Guantanamo and not send more prisoners there—additionally it's more likely that New York will convict. CNN's Peter Bergen writes:
"While courts in New York have convicted alleged terrorists at a 100% rate, less than 1% have been successfully tried at Guantanamo."
"No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice. [T]his arrest sends an unmistakable message: There is no corner of the world where you can escape from justice because we will do everything in our power to hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law."