America

First Gitmo Detainee Tried In Civilian Court Found Not Guilty On Most Charges

A federal jury in Manhattan acquitted the first Guantanamo Bay prison detainee to face a civilian court of all but one of the charges he faced.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports:

It took a Manhattan jury seven days to find Ahmed Ghailani guilty of just one count of conspiracy and acquit him of murder and terrorism charges.

Prosecutors said Ghailani bought a truck and explosives for the bombing before he left Africa and hid in Pakistan.

The defense said Ghailani was a dupe and had no idea that he was helping with a terrorism plot for al-Qaeda.

Federal prosecutors had charged Ghailani with 276 murder and attempted murder counts in connection with the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.

The AP reports on the reaction from both sides:

In a statement, Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller said U.S. officials ``respect the jury's verdict'' and are "pleased'' that Ghailani faces a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison at sentencing on Jan. 25.

Defense attorney Peter Quijano welcomed the acquittals. He said the one conviction would be appealed.

"We still truly believe he is innocent of all these charges,'' Quijano said. Still, Ghailani, who could have faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted of some of the other counts, ``believed he got a fair trial,'' he added.

Ghailani's trial was important because it was a test run for what could come for the 174 men still being held in Guantanamo. As NPR's Carrie Johnson reported, the trial tested whether testimony or evidence attained through "enhanced interrogations" would be admissible in court and whether a suspect's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated after being held in Guantanamo for nearly five years before this trial.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was found guilty of conspiracy. He is facing a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. U.S. District Attorney's Office hide caption

itoggle caption U.S. District Attorney's Office

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan resolved that Ghailani's Sixth Amendment rights weren't violated but, last month, he barred prosecutors from using the testimony of an important witness because his identity was discovered using questionable interrogation techniques. Hussein Abebe would have testified that he had sold Ghailani the TNT used to blow up the embassy in Tanzania.

Judge Kaplan, the AP points out, also gave the government plenty of latitude to reference al-Qaida and bin Laden.

It did — again and again.

"This is Ahmed Ghailani. This is al-Qaida. This is a terrorist. This is a killer," Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff said in closing arguments.

The jury heard a former al-Qaida member who has cooperated with the government describe how bin Laden took the group in a more radical direction with a 1998 fatwa, or religious edict, against Americans.

The Obama administration was confident that a jury would find Ghailani guilty. As controversy over where to try Guantanamo detainees erupted earlier this year, the President said: "I am absolutely convinced that the American justice system is strong enough that we should be able to convict people who murdered innocent Americans who carried out terrorist attacks against us."

The verdict is no doubt a blow to the Obama administration's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

At the courthouse in Manhattan, reports the New York Times, Judge Kaplan told jurors they should "be proud of your service."

The judge told the jurors they had “demonstrated that American justice can be rendered calmly, deliberately and fairly, by ordinary people, people who are not beholden to any government, not even ours.

“It can be rendered with fidelity to the Constitution,” the judge said...

The jurors all served anonymously and were to be whisked away from the courthouse under high security by federal marshals to other locations in the city, from where they would go home. They were unavailable for comment.

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