The four men were clad in prison uniforms resembling hospital scrubs, the protective garment worn by doctors and nurses in operating theatres.
The pre-trial hearing before Judge Victor Marrero lasted about 25 minutes. It focused on setting a schedule for “discovery” – a term in US law referring to the assembling of evidence in a case that can then be exchanged between prosecutors and defence attorneys.
Discovery will prove to be a complex process in this instance, assistant federal prosecutor Michael Lockard told Judge Marrero.
The Akasha brothers and two co-defendants charged with conspiring to smuggle heroin into the United States (US) were taken to a federal courtroom in New York on Friday wearing handcuffs attached to a chain around their waists.
Evidence in the case involving Kenyan nationals Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha, Indian citizen Vijaygiri Goswami and Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani, mainly takes the form of electronic data in various languages, including English, Swahili, Hindi, Arabic and Urdu. Interpretations have to be arranged for both the prosecution and defence. A courtroom conference updating the status of the case was set for April 21. The actual trial is not expected to begin for several more months.
The four men are accused of conspiring to transport 98 kilogrammes of heroin into the US from Kenya. If convicted on all charges, they could be sentenced to life in prison.
Individual attorneys representing each of the four Kenya residents made no complaints in court on Friday regarding the conditions in which their clients are being held.
The defendants themselves did not speak during Friday’s court session. Two of them listened to the proceedings through headphones that provided translations from English.
The session proceeded in a cordial, professional manner with no hint of tensions.
Mr Hussein needs daily doses of insulin for his diabetes condition as well as treatment for a festering toe wound, defence attorney Philip Weinstein told the court. Mr Goswami requires eyeglasses for reading, said attorney Daniel Arshack.
Arrangements will be made to meet their clients’ needs, the lawyers were told.
Two of the men – Ibrahim Akasha and Mr Goswami – are housed in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre (MCC) in Manhattan, while Baktash Akasha and Mr Hussein are being held in the Metropolitan Detention Centre in the nearby Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Conditions in the two facilities are similar, Mr Arshack, the attorney for Mr Goswami, told the Nation.
Most of the approximately 800 individuals kept in the MCC in Manhattan do not experience the extreme isolation described in a January 23 article in The New York Times, Mr Arshack said.
The Times account made reference to an earlier claim by one of the convicted bombers of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that conditions at the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are “more pleasant” and “more relaxed” than those in the MCC. The bomber, Tanzanian citizen Ahmed Ghailani, was held at both Guantanamo and the MCC.
Defence attorney Arshack said last month’s Times story focused on a special unit in the MCC that houses inmates accused or convicted on what the newspaper called “the most severe charges.” The four figures in the Kenya-related case are not in that category, Mr Arshack noted.
He said his client and the three other defendants are able to spend at least a few hours a day outside their cells. They have access during that time to television and to the facilities’ libraries, Mr Arshack noted. Despite being held in a correctional centre nearly 12,000 kilometres away from Kenya, Mr Goswami is “upbeat and confident of prevailing,” his attorney said.