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January 25, 2011

Former GTMO detainee gets LWOP federal sentence despite jury acquittal on hundreds of counts

As detailed in this CBS News report, which is headlined "Ghailani Gets Life Sentence for Embassy Plot," a high-profile defendants high-profile acquittal on lots and lots of charges did not do him much good at sentencing in federal court today. Here are the details:

The first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court has been sentenced to life in prison. A federal judge in Manhattan imposed the term Tuesday on 36-year-old Ahmed Ghailani of Tanzania.

Ghailani was acquitted late last year of more than 200 counts of murder and dozens of other charges related to an al Qaeda attack in 1998 on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  The jury convicted him of a single count of conspiring to destroy government buildings....

The defense sought to convince the judge Ghailani deserved leniency because he didn't have firsthand knowledge of the scheme. They also said the CIA tortured him after his capture. Prosecutors argued for a life sentence. They said Ghailani knew about the plot all along and was a key player....

Ghailani's five-week civilian jury trial last Fall was the first for a post-9/11 prisoner once held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was seen as a test case for future prosecutions in federal court against other detainees, such as Khalid Shaiykh Mohammed and four others charged by the military in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Reconciling the jury's acquittal on counts of carrying out the attacks, U.S. District Judge Kaplan said in his opinion opined, "The jury was not persuaded that Ghailani (1) knew the target and (2) knew it when he took any actions that ultimately proved to have furthered the bombing."  But the judge concluded, "abundant evidence" and al Qaeda's premium on secrecy in its operations supported the jury finding of Ghailani's "knowing and willing participation in the conspiracy."

Four al Qaeda recruits convicted in the first embassy bombings trial in 2001, including a pair who rode in the bomb trucks, are serving life sentences in the U.S. "supermax" prison in Florence, Colo.

Life sentences were more recently doled out on men convicted for the thwarted or failed plots to bomb the U.S. embassy in Canada; to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb; to explode fuel tanks at JFK International Airport in New York; and to detonate a car bomb in Manhattan's Times Square.

January 25, 2011 at 02:28 PM | Permalink


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lol sounds like a crock conviction.....200+ charges and all they got was a puny joke conviction of conspiracy? just another reason this country is now the laughing stock of the work.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 26, 2011 1:26:02 AM

Thank you very much for keeping me up to date.

Posted by: Health Blog | Jan 26, 2011 7:04:46 AM

Life sentence for conspiracy to bomb "something"...what was all the neo-con fuss about civilian trials for terrorist suspects again?

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 26, 2011 8:38:49 AM

Can you say kangaroo court?

Posted by: John K | Jan 26, 2011 11:59:47 AM

I thought Balkinization had a great take on this:

Ghailani and the Lost Lesson of Federal Prosecutions

Jonathan Hafetz

Federal district judge Lewis A. Kaplan today sentenced Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani to life in prison for his role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. To date, Ghailani is the only Guantanamo detainee to be prosecuted in federal court.

Ghailani’s case demonstrates the feasibility of Article III trials for even the most challenging terrorism cases. Ghailani’s prosecution was severely compromised by his prolonged imprisonment in a secret CIA jail and at Guantanamo, all while he was under federal indictment. Ghailani’s coercive interrogations led to the exclusion of one government witness; two other witnesses who had testified against Ghailani’s co-defendants died during Ghailani’s years of extrajudicial detention. Although the jury acquitted Ghailani of all charges of murder and conspiracy, it still convicted him of a count serious enough to result in a life sentence.

The Ghailani conviction, however, will likely have limited impact, at least in the short term. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to issue an order authorizing new military commission trials at Guantanamo. Congress, moreover, has enacted legislation barring the administration from using defense department funds to prosecute any Guantanamo detainee in federal court for at least the current fiscal year, thus dealing a critical blow to Attorney General Holder’s plan to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 plotters.

Stripped to its essence, the choice is as follows. Should the United States charge those responsible for the worst domestic terrorist attacks in the nation’s history in a time-tested and credible adjudicatory system? Or should it instead continue to hold them in legal limbo (via military detention) or try them before military tribunals whose rules remain in flux and legitimacy open to question? Law and logic dictate the former. But if past is prologue, partisan gamesmanship and the politics of fear will continue to prevail, and federal prosecutions of Guantanamo detainees will remain the exception not the norm.

Posted by: capitalhabeasatty | Jan 26, 2011 5:28:13 PM

Quite a contrast to the usual right wing ideology posted on Crime and Consequences

Posted by: capitalhabeasatty | Jan 26, 2011 5:29:21 PM

capitalhabeasatty --

"Should the United States charge those responsible for the worst domestic terrorist attacks in the nation’s history in a time-tested and credible adjudicatory system?"

Glad to hear you say it, since the usual left wing ideology, seen in numerous of the comments here, is that the civilian "adudicatory system" in this country -- whether by trial or plea bargain -- is a capitalist tool rigged to further oppress the downtrodden, and carried off by fascist-thug prosecutors and their judge cronies, "stacking charges" and forcing multitudes of innocent people into false confessions.

I am pleased to see you speak up against this tripe.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2011 12:31:38 AM

As someone who has clerked for a federal judge and has practiced in federal court for the past twenty years, I have nothing but respect for the high quality of federal district courts and their staff. With very few exceptions, these judges are outstandingly professional and intelligent and take the work they do, and their role as independent arbiters, with utmost seriousness. Time and again, they have proved that a robust protection of civil rights can co-exist with the protection of public safety and I think they can be trusted to litigate the most serious claims, against the most dangerous terrorists and criminals. In fact, I think it's a grave mistake not to trust them to do so. The quality of our federal criminal justice system is strong enough to handle prosecutions against Ghailani and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; I only wish that more conservative commentators thought so as well.

Posted by: capitalhabeasatty | Jan 27, 2011 3:00:13 AM

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