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Vol. 74/No. 46      December 6, 2010

Guantánamo inmate
convicted in civilian trial
In the first civilian trial of a Guantánamo detainee on terror charges, Ahmed Ghailani was found guilty of one charge and acquitted of 284 other counts, including 224 charges of murder.

The Tanzania native was accused of involvement in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. Convicted on a charge of conspiring to damage U.S. property, he faces a minimum of 20 years and up to life in prison.

The verdict has renewed debate over whether to try remaining Guantánamo detainees in civilian courts or military tribunals.

In the tribunals the judge and jury are military personnel appointed by the Pentagon. The prosecution is allowed to use secret evidence, hearsay, and statements obtained through torture. A defendant cannot see or challenge the government’s secret evidence.

At Ghailani’s trial U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled out use of some “evidence” the prosecution wanted to use because it was obtained by torturing Ghailani.

Sen. John McCain said on the radio show “Imus in the Morning” that the verdict in the Ghailani case proved military commissions should be used to “get the job done.”

“This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts,” said Rep. Peter King of New York, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. “We must treat them as wartime enemies and try them in military commissions at Guantánamo.”

Defending the civilian trial, Judge Kaplan told jurors, “You have demonstrated … that American justice can be delivered calmly, deliberately and fairly, by ordinary people.”

One thing “American justice” didn’t allow was any testimony on conditions at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where Ghailani was held, or about the years he spent overseas in “black site” prisons run by the CIA. The judge also ruled that although Ghailani has been held more than five years without being brought to trial, his right to a speedy trial was not violated.

There remain 174 prisoners held in Guantánamo. Of these the Obama administration is hoping to try 40 in civilian court. Some 48 others will be held indefinitely because the government says they are too dangerous to release.

When Obama took office in early 2009 he issued an executive order pledging to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay in a year. Now two years in office there is no sign his pledge will be fulfilled anytime soon.
Related articles:
Washington deploys tanks to Afghan war
Australia meeting expands military ties with U.S. gov’t  
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