The first former Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in federal criminal court was found guilty on a single conspiracy charge Wednesday but cleared on 284 other counts. The outcome, a surprise, seriously undermines – and could doom – the Obama administration’s plans to put other Guantanamo detainees on trial in U.S. civilian courts.
After deliberating for five days, a jury of six men and six women found Ahmed Ghailani, 36, guilty of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property but acquitted him of multiple murder and attempted-murder charges for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.
The Obama administration had hoped that a conviction on most, if not all, of the charges would help clear the way for federal prosecutions of other Guantanamo detainees – including Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The administration did not want to rely exclusively on the military commissions that the George W. Bush administration had made a centerpiece of its detention policy.
President Obama’s strategy, however, has run into fierce, cross-party opposition in Congress and New York, in part because of concerns that it would be harder to win convictions in civilian court.
The failure to convict Ghailani, a native of Tanzania, on the most serious terrorism charges will bolster the arguments of those who say the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be kept open, both to host military commissions for some prisoners and to hold others indefinitely and without trial under the laws of war.
“You deserve a lot of credit,” U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan told the jurors after the verdicts were announced. “You have demonstrated also that American justice can be delivered calmly, deliberately and fairly, by ordinary people – people who are not beholden to any government, including this one.”
Does Judge Kaplan sound impartial to you? Here’s a bit more from the WaPo piece that should help you decide:
Analysis of the verdict is likely to focus on the decision of Kaplan to exclude a Tanzanian whom the prosecution had described as a potentially “giant witness.” The man was expected to say that he sold Ghailani explosives used in the attack.
But the judge ruled that the government learned of the witness only through the use of coercive interrogations at CIA prisons and that the participation of the witness would taint the process.
I’m ruling that Kaplan has tainted the process. I suspect the vast majority of Americans would rule similarly.