Guantanamo detainee acquitted of most charges

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NEW YORK - A jury acquitted the first Guantanamo detainee to stand trial in a civilian court of nearly a dozen charges and convicted him on one, of plotting to bomb the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Ahmed Ghailani was found guilty Wednesday only in conspiring to attack the US compounds in 1998 bombings that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, as US prosecutors had hoped to put him in prison for the rest of his life.

“We respect the jury’s verdict and are pleased that Ahmed Ghailani now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison and a potential life sentence for his role in the embassy bombings,” said Matthew Miller, a justice department spokesman.

US Attorney Preet Bharara said justice officials would seek the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole at a sentencing hearing Jan 25.

The verdict was reached more than a week after a 12-member jury was ordered by Judge Lewis Kaplan to go into deliberations in a federal court in Lower Manhattan.

President Barack Obama’s administration had hoped that the civilian trial would be a test case for other terrorist cases. Other detainees at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been tried before military tribunals, but they are slow-moving and fraught with controversy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on the Obama administration to prosecute all terrorism suspects in federal courts, saying the military commissions system had “failed” for having produced only five convictions since the Guantanamo prison opened in 2002.

Hina Shamsi, an ACLU expert on national security, said the case “should put to rest any unfounded fears that our federal justice system cannot conduct fair, safe and effective trials in terrorism cases”.

During Ghailani’s month-long trial, which began in October, US prosecutors accused him of plotting and helping to organise the attacks on the US embassies.

But Ghailaini’s lawyers said the Tanzanian was duped by Al Qaeda terrorist agents at work in eastern Africa with the intention of killing Americans. A key witness to Ghailani’s confession of guilt was banned by the judge because Ghailani was tortured while under detention in CIA-run camps overseas.

Four other plotters in the 1998 twin embassy bombings have been serving life sentences without parole in a US maximum-security prison since their convictions in 2001 for their involvement in the attacks.

The Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam attacks brought Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the attention of US security officials as a major mover on the terrorist scene. They bore the Al Qaeda trademark of simultaneous attacks used even more lethally in the 2001 suicide hijackings in the US.

Along with his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden is also listed in US court indictments for the embassy attacks.

Ghailani was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and spent years in camps run by the US Central Intelligence Agency, where he was alleged to have been tortured, before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

He was moved from Guantanamo to New York last year to await trial.

Filed under: Terrorism

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