US court upholds conviction of ex-Gitmo detainee

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Oct. 24 upheld the conviction (PDF) of ex-Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa. Ghailani had appealed his conviction on the premise that his constitutional rights to a speedy trial had been violated by his lengthy detainment and interrogation by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Although the interrogation techniques that were used remain classified, the CIA has justified this practice as an effort to gain “critical, real-time intelligence about terrorist networks and plots.” This appeal provided the court an opportunity to consider, and ultimately provide support for, the legal implications of US efforts to gain intelligence from terrorism suspects before prosecuting them. Ghailani’s lawyer has said that he will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Ghailani was sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2011. Ghailani’s conviction in November 2011 has been praised as a “victory” for the American justice system because Ghailani appeared before a jury instead of a military commission and the government was able to win its case without using evidence obtained through torture. In October 2010 the court heard arguments in the trial, the first civilian trial of a former Guantanamo detainee. An attorney for Ghailani argued during the opening statements that al-Qaeda took advantage of Ghailani’s youth and that Ghailani was unaware of the terrorists’ criminal plans.

In July 2010, the judge refused to dismiss charges against Ghailani, ruling that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had not been violated. Ghailani’s lawyers had sought a dismissal of charges, arguing that he was denied the right to a speedy trial while being detained for nearly five years in CIA secret prisons and later at Guantánamo Bay. Earlier in July, the judge ruled that Ghailani was not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and was therefore fit to stand trial.

From Jurist, Oct. 24. Used with permission.