First Guantanamo Detainee Arrives In U.S.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Today, for the first time, a detainee from Guantanamo Bay arrived in the U.S. to stand trial. Ahmed Ghailani was arraigned in a federal courtroom in New York. He pleaded not guilty to participating in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins me here in the studio to talk about this case and what it could mean for the other detainees at Guantanamo. Ari, tell us first more about this case and how it compares to the other detainees.
ARI SHAPIRO: Well, I think it's not coincidental that the first of these cases we've seen is probably one of the easiest of all the Guantanamo detainees to try and that's because the charges against him are all connected to things that happened before 2001. As you said, these are the bombings at the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. In fact, the indictment against him, with 280 some charges, came out in March of 2001, six months before 9/11. That said, his story is not unlike many detainees at Guantanamo. He was picked up in Pakistan in 2004.
He spent two years at a CIA prison, and then was brought to Guantanamo in 2006. But none of those questions are likely to play a significant role in his trial because, as I say, everything about the trial comes from pre-9/11.
NORRIS: Now, are the trials for the Guantanamo detainees necessarily more difficult than other terrorism trials?
SHAPIRO: Well, there's two different kinds of difficulty. There's legal difficulty and political difficulty. Legally speaking, a suspected terrorist at Guantanamo is not, broadly speaking, any different from a suspected terrorist picked up in the United States and tried in the U.S. There have been lots and lots of terrorism trials in the U.S. throughout American history - and even since 9/11, even some very high-profile terrorists like Zacarias Moussaoui. There may be problems with specific Guantanamo detainees standing trial, questions of torture and things like that.
Those questions can be addressed on a case-by-case basis. But broadly speaking, legally, no, Guantanamo detainees are no different from other terrorism detainees. Now politically, it's very different and I think politically, this is shaping up to be a much, much harder fight than the Obama administration had anticipated.
NORRIS: And if it is going to be this much larger fight, what are the outlines of that fight?
SHAPIRO: Well, Republicans have been citing a poll by USA Today and Gallup. That said, the vast majority of Americans do not want Guantanamo detainees brought to the United States. Period. The Obama administration emphasizes that nobody dangerous will be released into the United States. Today, they put out a fact sheet listing many of the high-profile terrorism detainees who are now in U.S. custody, in federal prisons in the United States. They said there are 216 inmates in prisons around the U.S. who have some connection to terrorism. Of course, some of those 216 are not terribly dangerous people.
But the Obama administration is trying to drive home the point that terrorists standing trial in the U.S. is nothing new. This is something that the Marshal Service and Bureau of Prisons has been doing for years now.
NORRIS: The Obama administration was also trying to drive home the point that he was very serious about his intention to close Guantanamo. It was one of the first orders of business when he took office. How much progress have they made on that front?
SHAPIRO: Well, there's a task force that's working on all these issues that President Obama gave 180 days to complete their work. And so that deadline comes in late July. But that deadline is not soon enough for some congressional Democrats, who say listen, we're getting a lot of pressure from Republicans. We feel like we want to support the president on his desire to close Guantanamo, but Senate aides are telling me they've got to give us the details so we can actually defend these plans.
Because right now, some Senate Democrats feel like they're just being beaten up. There are some 240 detainees at Guantanamo and pretty soon, we're going to have to start seeing where they're all going to go.
NORRIS: We've got to let you go, but is it realistic to expect that the White House can keep to that timetable?
SHAPIRO: I wouldn't rule it out yet, but some people are wondering how they're going to do it.
NORRIS: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro, talking with us about the first Guantanamo prisoner brought to the U.S. to stand trial.
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