Ex-Gitmo detainee Ghailani acquitted of 285 counts —but could still face life

A New York federal jury acquitted alleged al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on Nov. 17 of all major terrorism charges in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224, including 12 US citizens. In the first trial of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee in civilian court, the Tanzanian was convicted of one count of conspiracy to damage or destroy US property but cleared of 285 counts, including 276 of murder and attempted murder. Federal prosecutors say they will seek the maximum sentence of life without parole on the conspiracy count.

The US media are portraying the verdict as a defeat for President Obama’s plans to close the Guantánamo prison and bring the remaining detainees to the United States for trial. “This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts,” Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) said, calling the trial “a total miscarriage of justice.”

But AlJazeera quoted Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who said that the trial demonstrated the civil courts work and there was no need to keep the Guantánamo facility open. “What strikes me is how efficient, fair, and transparent the federal court prosecution was,” she said.

At the request of his attorneys, Ghailani’s words in his 2007 interrogation at Guantánamo were never presented to the jury on the grounds that they were coerced, untrustworthy and inadmissible. An FBI report on the interrogation portrays Ghailani describing how he was duped into helping to buy the truck and TNT used the in Tanzania attack, gradually becoming aware that they were intended for use in terrorist attacks. (AlJazeera, Nov. 18; LAT, NYT, Nov. 17)

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  1. Ghailani gets life
    Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was given the maximum sentence—life with no parole—by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in New York. Ghailani is the first ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee to be successfully prosecuted and sentenced in a US civilian court. Attorney General Eric Holder touted the Ghailani case is proof that the civilian courts acan be used to try terrorist suspects. “Hundreds of individuals have now been convicted in federal court of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes since Sept. 11, 2001,” Holder said in a statement released after the sentence was handed down. “As this case demonstrates, we will not rest in bringing to justice terrorists who seek to harm the American people, and we will use every tool available to the government to do so.” (LAT, Jan. 25)