Leaflets handed out near the Manhattan courthouse, where Stanley L. Cohen is defending a relative of Osama bin Laden, describe the Jewish attorney as a “traitor” and an “enemy of Jews, Israel and America.” Similar fliers were distributed around his Lower East Side loft. But for Cohen, who has spent much of his career representing terror suspects, threats and abuses are merely an occupational hazard. “These things happen,” he said.
And they happen to Cohen more than others.
The trial in New York’s Southern District court involves Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and a spokesman for al Qaeda; he is charged with conspiracy to kill Americans and with providing material support to terrorists. Both sides concluded their arguments yesterday and the jury begins deliberations today.
At the head of the defense team stands Cohen, who after years of defending Muslim terror suspects, feels just as much at home in Beirut and Gaza as he does in New York and who is as comfortable with leaders of Hamas as with the Jewish friends and neighbors he grew up with.
Cohen, 62, with a full graying beard and ruffled hair, is a veteran of courtroom battles for defendants too controversial for others to take on. He won his fame, and some say notoriety, when defending Hamas activist Mousa Abu Marzook and later becoming a close ally of the Palestinian resistance group classified in the United States as a terror organization.
But for Cohen, who has never shied away from controversial cases or from the limelight that follows them, Abu Ghaith’s case is a first. Cohen proudly hosts a section devoted to “haters” on his personal website. He admits to feeling less at ease with defending an Al Qaeda activist even though he believes his client is no more than a “deer in the headlights,” who happened to be “in the wrong place in the wrong time.”
Such ambivalence doesn’t entirely square with how Cohen came to represent the close relative of the man who was once America’s most wanted terrorist. After Abu Ghaith was extradited to the U.S., he was given a court-appointed attorney, but asked for Cohen, instead.
While it’s not unusual for a defendant to switch lawyers, in this case there was an added complication: Cohen is under federal indictment in Syracuse and federal investigation in Manhattan.