US jury hands down Ghailani verdict
Ex-Guantánamo inmate accused of role in US embassy attacks acquitted
on all but one of 286 charges at civilian trial.
November 11, 2010
Ghailani was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and transferred to the US-run Guantánamo
Bay prison in 2006 [AFP]
The first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court has been
found not guilty on all but one of the 286 charges in the 1998 bombings of two
US embassies in Africa.
A federal jury handed down the verdict on Wednesday to Ahmed Ghailani, a Tanzanian
national who had been accused of conspiring in the car bomb attacks in Kenya
and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
The jury found him guilty of one charge of conspiracy to damage or destroy
US property by means of an explosive device.
Ghailani was cleared of 276 murder and attempted murder counts, along with
five other conspiracy charges.
However, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years after his conspiracy
“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,” the US justice department said after the
‘Efficient and fair’
Daphne Eviatar, from Human Rights First, said that the trial demonstrated the
system works and that there was no need to keep the Guantánamo Bay facility
“What strikes me is how efficient, fair, and transparent the federal court
prosecution was,” she said.
“The questions today’s verdict raise are why the government has not tried
all terror suspects in federal court and when will the government announce additional
Ghailani was accused by government prosecutors of conspiring to carry out the
attacks by purchasing a lorry and gas cylinders. But his lawyers argued that
he was a dupe of the senior al-Qeada leaders and that he had no prior knowledge
of their plans.
Under US law, prosecutors must prove that a defendant wilfully and knowingly
took part in a plot.
Ghailani was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and was transferred to the US-run
Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba in 2006.
The trial at a New York courthouse had been viewed as a possible test case
for the US government’s aim of putting other Guantánamo detainees on civilian
trials on US soil.
Ghailani’s prosecution also demonstrated some of the constitutional challenges
the government would face if that happens.
On the eve of the trial last month, the judge barred the government from calling
a key witness because the witness had been identified as being subject to harsh
After briefly considering an appeal of that ruling, prosecutors forged ahead
with a case that began 10 years ago in the prosecution of four other men charged
in the same attacks in Tanzania and Kenya.
All were convicted and sentenced to life terms.
Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer for Guantánamo and Afghanistan’s Bagram detainees, told
Al Jazeera that the Ghailani verdict will add fuel to the debate in the US about
whether to go with the regular court system versus military commissions.
“On the one hand, it can be characterised as a defeat for the [Barack]
Obama administration because you’ve got a man that has been acquitted of over
280 charges,” he said.
“But he was found guilty of one conspiracy count and that carries a minimum
of 20 years to life. So it’s not like the Obama administration isn’t getting
a conviction out of this case.
“I think that is something there for both sides to argue – that we should
move forward with regular courts when you compare the military to the court
system, and the other side will argue that this means military courts are the
way to go.”
However, David Remes, a lawyer for some of the detainees at Guantánamo, told
Al Jazeera that little was likely to change as a consequence of the Ghailani
“The fact is though is that it won’t have much impact in the long run
– the [US] administration has already plotted its course, and this will only
stand as background noise,” he said.