Osama's Day In Court

In 1995, while preparing his trial defense for Timothy McVeigh, lead counsel Stephen Jones tried to come up with alternative suspects. Osama bin Laden was one, prompting Jones to joke, "Just imagine how difficult it would be for us if the government went after him."

It could happen, if U.S. forces manage to locate him and bring him back alive for criminal prosecution. But would anyone represent bin Laden? "It might be a career-breaker," says attorney Jack Litman. "A lawyer who took that case--even the mob would shun him," says Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University.

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who's made a career of taking on unpopular clients like O. J. Simpson, says he might defend bin Laden if a court appointed him. "It would be emotionally wrenching--I hate everything he stands for," Dershowitz says. But Dershowitz says the U.S. system demands every defendant get a fair trial, and "how could I say no in principle?" Dershowitz likens a defense of bin Laden to an ER doctor's treating one of the hijackers. "Whoever represents him would be performing an act of high patriotism," he says, "but I hope I'm not the one who gets the call."