NY judge to hear complaints of terror suspect held in Guantanamo Bay, CIA camps for 5 years

By Larry Neumeister, AP
Monday, January 11, 2010

NY judge to hear from Guantanamo suspect’s lawyers

NEW YORK — A judge was set to hear arguments from lawyers Monday before deciding if a terrorist bombing suspect’s rights were violated when he was held for five years for questioning at Guantanamo Bay and in secret CIA-run camps abroad instead of being prosecuted promptly in a U.S. court.

Lawyers for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who’s accused of deadly bombings at two U.S. embassies in Africa, say the government erred by letting him be questioned for two years in CIA detention camps and then for three years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before he was moved last spring to New York, where he becomes the first Guantanamo prisoner to be prosecuted in a civilian U.S. court.

Rulings in Ghailani’s case could set precedents affecting the New York prosecution of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, accused of being the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Attorney General Eric Holder in November announced his intention to move Mohammed and four other detainees from Guantanamo Bay to New York to face a civilian trial.

Ghailani, described by authorities as a bombmaker, document forger and aide to Osama bin Laden, was charged in December 1998 in the bombings four months earlier of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

The bombings, which prosecutors call al-Qaida’s first successful mass-casualty attacks, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. Four other people convicted at a 2001 Manhattan trial in the case are serving life sentences. Bin Laden also is a defendant in the prosecution.

Ghailani’s lawyers demanded in papers unsealed last week that the government turn over documents related to their client’s detention after his July 2004 arrest in Pakistan. Some of those documents pertain to the CIA’s power to apprehend and interrogate terrorism suspects and the authorization of standard or enhanced interrogation techniques.

Before scaling back its enhanced interrogation program, the CIA used 10 harsh methods, including waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.

Ghailani complained about his treatment last February, saying he’d been deprived of his liberty and “denied access to the outside world.”

“I have been a victim of the ‘cruel enhanced interrogation’ techniques, never afforded the right to remain silent nor the right to have an attorney,” he wrote in a petition seeking freedom.

His lawyers’ papers, partially redacted, were written in November. They said the government had sought to prosecute him and others before a military tribunal in part to avoid U.S. Constitution protections such as the right to a speedy civilian court trial.

Prosecutors say the delay in bringing Ghailani to trial was carried out to defend the country from “a threat made shockingly concrete by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

In partially redacted papers put in the public file in December, prosecutors said Ghailani differed from other defendants in the embassy bombings case because he was captured abroad after spending six years as a fugitive working directly with top al-Qaida terrorists.

“Thus, unlike his co-defendants, the defendant was captured during a war, at a time when the government reasonably feared a terrorist attack on its soil on a scale equal to, or even greater than, the Sept. 11 attacks,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said Ghailani had a close relationship to high-ranking al-Qaida leaders and thus was a “rare find” and a “potentially rich source of information that was both urgent and crucial to our nation’s war efforts.”

“(The) United States justifiably opted to initially treat the defendant as an intelligence asset — to obtain from him whatever information it could concerning terrorists and terrorist plots,” prosecutors said. “This was done, simply put, to save lives.”

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