A Burlington attorney is seeking to represent a Saudi man accused of having worked as a PR flak for Osama bin Laden.
David Kirby, formerly the top federal prosecutor in Vermont and now a partner in the Battery Street law firm of O'Connor & Kirby, recently asked to be appointed defense lawyer for Khalid al-Fawwaz. The alleged Al Qaeda member may soon be extradited to the United States to stand trial on murder and conspiracy charges related to the 1998 twin bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Al-Fawwaz has been held for more than 12 years in the United Kingdom where he allegedly worked as a publicist for bin Laden. He is also accused of acting as an al Qaeda recruiter and of having supplied bin Laden with a satellite phone used in coordinating the East African attacks.
The nearly simultaneous blasts in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam — which occurred three years prior to the felling of the World Trade Center — took the lives of 212 Africans and 12 Americans. Five men have so far been convicted in federal court in New York for their involvement in the embassy bombings.
Kirby's April 30 request to represent al-Fawwaz was denied on Friday by federal Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York. But the judge implied that Kirby could renew his request if and when al-Fawwaz is brought to the United States.
In his letter to Kaplan, the Burlington lawyer said he has been in contract for several months with al-Fawwaz's London attorneys and has developed a “rapport” with them. Kirby told the judge that a London-based lawyer for al-Fawwaz was seeking an American attorney who would not “sensationalize the case or seek publicity for any cause.”
Kirby had argued in his letter that al-Fawwaz is indigent and needs assistance in addressing pretrial issues. As an apparent last effort to avoid extradition to the U.S., al-Fawwaz is asking the European Court of Human Rights to rule that his potential lifetime confinement in an American “super-max” prison would amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.
Kirby told Seven Days in a telephone interview on Saturday that the charged political atmosphere in the U.S. following the death of bin Laden would not dissuade him from representing an alleged bin Laden lieutenant. “I certainly believe every defendant facing criminal charges is entitled to representation,” Kirby said.
He agreed in response to a question about his tenure as a federal prosecutor that working in that capacity has equipped him with special skills for defending individuals charged with federal crimes.
Kirby declined to comment on the particulars of al-Fawwaz's case. He said “it is way too early to make any statements” about how he might seek to defend al-Fawwaz.
Kirby was involved in a number of high-profile cases while working in the U.S. attorney's office in Vermont. He successfully prosecuted affable local rogue Billy Greer on drug-smuggling charges. Kirby also handled the cost-overrun scandal of Fletcher Allen's expansion project that resulted in a two-year jail term for William Boettcher, the health center's former CEO.