1st Guantanamo Bay Detainee Arrives In N.Y.

According to the Justice Department, the first Guantanamo Bay detainee is in New York to face trial for bombing U.S. embassies. Officials said Ahmed Ghailani arrived early Tuesday morning.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Later today, authorities bring a terrorism suspect into a federal courtroom in New York. He is the first detainee brought to the U.S. from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ahmed Ghailani's new home is the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

NPR's Jackie Northam is covering a long story of what to do with detainees before Guantanamo is closed and she's on the line today from Afghanistan. Jackie, what makes Ghailani a subject for regular criminal prosecution?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, he was indicted in 1998 for his role in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Nairobi. And in fact he faces 286 counts, and that includes one count of murder for each of the 244 people who were killed in those attacks. And among them were 12 Americans.

Military and civilian prosecutors believe that Ghailani bought the explosives and helped build one of those bombs. He was picked up in Pakistan in 2004. And Steve, he's been in Guantanamo since 2006.

INSKEEP: So that is the charge against Ghailani, and now the evidence could be aired in a federal court. How important is this transfer to New York? How important is it to the larger effort to move people out and close Guantanamo?

NORTHAM: Well, it's hugely important. Just symbolically, he is the first one that is landing on American soil and is put into a federal correctional center and into a federal courtroom. You know, this is a real turning point. The administration is not just talking about making these decisions to close Guantanamo and detain people and try them under a different system, but they're actually going to take place. And this is the test case.

Ghailani is going into the U.S. criminal justice system, and this is despite growing concerns about security, about holding the Guantanamo prisoners in the U.S. You know, many lawmakers have complained that they don't want the detainees held in the U.S. and they certainly don't want them going to trial in the U.S., even under heavily-guarded circumstances.

INSKEEP: You said it's a test case. But isn't this, in a sense, one of the easy cases because there are specific criminal charges against this man? Aren't there other detainees that the administration might like to hold against whom there is no criminal charge?

NORTHAM: Right. And in some cases there's no real hard evidence. And so, yes, you're right, Ghailani's case is going to be easier, relatively easier than the other ones because he's already been indicted. But others are going to be tried under the military commission that's already in place. But it's still a huge question mark, what they're going to do with scores of other detainees, you know, who are still being held there, whether they'll be held - tried under a federal system or some other system. All this still has to be sorted out.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam. Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

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Gitmo Detainee Pleads Not Guilty In Bombings

The first Guantanamo detainee scheduled for trial in a civilian court in the U.S. pleaded not guilty Tuesday to involvement in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Ahmed Ghailani entered the plea in a federal court in Manhattan hours after being brought to New York from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Tanzania native is accused of 286 separate counts related to the Aug. 7, 1998, bombing of embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The attacks killed 224 people.

Prosecutors claim that Ghailani helped to buy a Nissan truck, oxygen and acetylene tanks that were used in the bombing in Tanzania. Prosecutors contend he also helped load bomb-making material in the truck before the attack.

But Ghailani has said he was an al-Qaida pawn. While being held at Guantanamo Bay, Ghailani told a military panel that he unwittingly delivered explosives used by others for the bombing in Tanzania and apologized to the U.S. government.

Ghailani is accused of six counts of conspiracy to murder, bomb and maim. The other charges are specifically related to the bombings — murder and attempted murder; using and carrying an explosive device; and using and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction. Ten of the charges carry possible death sentences.

Ghailani was first indicted in December 1998 on charges that he conspired with Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida members to kill Americans overseas and aided in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. That bombing killed at least 11 people and injured 85.

In addition to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Ghailani is accused of plotting with al-Qaida in a conspiracy to kill U.S. civilians all over the world.

Ghailani left Africa for Pakistan the night before the bombing. He was captured in July 2004 and sent to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006.

Ghailani's transfer to the U.S. comes weeks after Senate Democrats rejected President Obama's request for funds to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Lawmakers from both parties have demanded that the administration lay out a comprehensive plan for transferring detainees to the U.S. for trial, imprisonment or resettlement amid concern that the detainees represent a security threat.

But the Justice Department said numerous terrorism suspects have been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan — where Ghailani is behind bars — without incident.

The Justice Department said Ghailani was referred from prosecution in a civilian court after his case was reviewed by the Obama administration's interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force. Ghailani had been held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba since September 2006.

"With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case."

From NPR and wire reports

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