Detainee Acquitted on Most Counts in ’98 Bombings

While this story bodes well for liberty, and the Constitutional process, it is terrible news for the future of GW Bush and the DoD/CIA:

The first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on Wednesday of all but one of more than 280 charges of conspiracy and murder in the 1998 terrorist bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The case has been seen as a test of President Obama’s goal of trying detainees in federal court whenever feasible, and the result may again fuel debate over whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying terrorists.

The defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property. He was acquitted of four counts of conspiracy, including conspiring to kill Americans and use weapons of mass destruction.

When the judge’s clerk asked how the jury found on counts 11 to 223, which were all counts of murder, the jury foreman replied, “Not guilty.”

Mr. Ghailani faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.

The anonymous jury was 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.

The unexpected verdict by the six-man, six-woman jury came in the fifth day of deliberations and followed a four-week trial in which prosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge himself recognized the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of “enemy combatant” probably would permit his detention as something akin “to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.”

The Ghailani trial was the second stemming from the 1998 embassy attacks. In 2001, four Qaeda operatives were convicted of participating in the same conspiracy; in that case, prosecutors were able to introduce three of the defendants’ statements to the F.B.I. in which they incriminated themselves in the plot.

In Mr. Ghailani’s case, prosecutors chose not to introduce any of the statements Mr. Ghailani made when he was interrogated while in C.I.A. custody and at Guantánamo, although prosecutors told the judge the statements amounted “to a confession” of his role in the embassy plot. Defense lawyers argued that the statements had been coerced and were inadmissible.

Although the government’s loss on significant counts will undoubtedly test the government’s resolve on using civilian courts, the judge issued two major pretrial rulings that allowed Mr. Ghailani’s prosecution to go forward and could ease the way for future detainees, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the professed 9/11 mastermind, to be tried in federal court.

In May, the judge rejected a motion by Mr. Ghailani’s lawyers seeking dismissal of charges on grounds that his torture while in C.I.A. custody was outrageous government misconduct. And in the summer, the judge ruled that Mr. Ghailani’s years of detention before being brought into the civilian system had not violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Mr. Mohammed, for example, was held in detention longer than Mr. Ghailani, and allegations of torture — he was waterboarded 183 times — would most certainly be raised in his case.

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,” he added. “You have a right to be proud of your service in this case.”


Of course, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this guy is no angel.  An apparently reasonable jury convicted him of being part of the plot, even if he wasn’t a very high level part.  Besides this, however, there are a rabid pack of lawyers just itching to get a shot at trying Bush, Cheney, and Co.  To be honest, that would make me sad.  But it may be the right thing to do.  We will have to see.


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