No U.S. lawyer right now for embassy bombing suspect
By Bill Mears, CNN Senior Producer
October 11, 2013 — Updated 1745 GMT (0145 HKT)
- Judge rejects request for defense counsel for Libyan accused in 1998 Nairobi bombings
- Anas al Libi was captured by U.S. commandos in Tripoli and was placed in military custody
- He is expected to be transferred in coming days for prosecution in federal court
- Libyan Prime Minister called al Libi’s capture “kidnapping,” wants assurance he will be tried fairly
(CNN) — A federal judge denied a request in an order issued on Friday to immediately appoint defense counsel to a Libyan man captured last week in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.
Anas al Libi was seized by American commandos in Tripoli, then transferred to a Navy vessel in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with other accused terrorists, he had been charged by the Justice Department with conspiracy to kill Americans and embassy personnel in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
He is expected to be transferred from military to civilian custody in coming days or weeks to face prosecution in federal court.
Separately on Friday, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan condemned al Libi’s capture, calling it a “kidnapping.”
He said Libyan officials are in touch with the U.S. government to try to ensure that al Libi’s rights are respected and that he “be tried in a just way.”
David Patton of the Federal Public Defenders Office in New York asked a judge on Thursday to allow his office to represent al Libi’s legal interests immediately even though he is not in the United States.
The Justice Department opposed the motion, saying counsel cannot be appointed until the defendant officially appears in federal court.
The Obama administration activated the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, a team made up of FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies, to interview al Libi for intelligence purposes while he remains in U.S. military custody, according to U.S. officials.
He is not yet in federal or civilian custody where the rules for treating criminal suspects are different.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has been overseeing the broader judicial cases involving the bombing suspects, said counsel could not be appointed until al Libi actually is brought to the United States and is presented in court. Until then, the judge agreed with the government that al Libi is technically not under “criminal arrest.”
“There is no proper basis on which the court could conclude that the obligation to produce the defendant before it in this criminal case has come into existence. The decision whether to proceed with a criminal prosecution of this indictment in the first instance, at least, is an Executive Branch function. It remains to be seen whether such prosecution will go forward.”
The court order may be modified if and when al Libi is transferred to American soil.
Federal public defenders are employed by the judiciary and provide legal representation to some indigent defendants.
CNN’s Evan Perez and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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