Thursday, January 6, 2011

Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Ghailani cleared of 276 charges

In a blow to the Obama administration, Ahmed Ghailani, a 36-year-old Tanzanian, was on Wednesday night cleared by a jury in New York of 276 counts of murder and attempted murder and five counts of conspiracy.

He was convicted of just one charge of conspiring to damage or destroy American property with an explosive device, but still faces at least 20 years in prison.

Ghailani had been accused of plotting with an al-Qaeda cell to kill US citizens in the attacks on the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

A spokesman said the Department of Justice was “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.”

However the verdict was viewed as a setback to the plan by Barack Obama, the US President, to try alleged terrorists, including the self-proclaimed ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, in civilian courts.

Ghailani was held by the CIA after being arrested in Pakistan in July 2004.

He was transferred to the prison at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006.

The prosecution against him was dogged by problems after the judge, Lewis Kaplan, blocked it from using its star witness, who claimed he had sold Ghailani the explosives used in the Tanzania attack.

Judge Kaplan barred the use of the witness, Hussein Abebe, because his confession had been extracted during interrogations in a secret CIA prison, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The prosecution claimed Ghailani had helped to buy a Nissan truck and gas tanks used in the Tanzania attack, and that his mobile phone had been used by plotters in the weeks leading up to the bombing.

In his closing argument, Harry Chernoff, an assistant US Attorney, said: “This is Ahmed Ghailani. This is al-Qaeda. This is a terrorist. This is a killer.” His defence team, however, said he was duped into associating with senior al-Qaeda operatives and that he had never known about the plot.

“Call him a fall guy. Call him a pawn,” his lawyer, Peter Quijano, said in his closing argument. “But don’t call him guilty.”

Jurors deliberated for five days after a month-long trial. Earlier this week, one passed a note to the judge asking to be excused because they felt threatened by fellow jurors. The request was turned down.

Four other men were convicted 10 years ago of carrying out the attacks and were sentenced to life in prison. Ghailani is due to be sentenced on January 25.

View the original article here

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