Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guantanamo Detainee Sentenced to Life in Prison

The first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a U.S. civilian court was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a 36-year-old Tanzanian, was convicted last year on a single count of conspiracy in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa.

Ghailani declined to speak before federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan sentenced him to life in prison and ordered him to pay $33 million in restitution. A jury had convicted Ghailani last November on one count of conspiracy but acquitted him on more than 280 other counts stemming from the truck bombings at the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. 224 people died and thousands more were injured in the attacks.

Ghailani's lawyer, Peter Quijano, had urged the judge not to levy a life sentence, but to take into account what he called torture of Ghailani by U.S. interrogators, and the valuable information that he gave them. But Judge Kaplan said that whatever Ghailani had suffered "at the hands of the CIA or our government" paled in comparison to the suffering his actions had caused. He said Ghailani could pursue remedies for mistreatment separately.

Eleven victims and survivors of the bombings, many of them from Africa, spoke at the sentencing hearing, describing the suffering and death they witnessed. About 20 others had written to the judge, also asking him to impose the maximum sentence.

Ghailani's lawyers maintain that he was never a full-fledged member of Al Qaeda, but was tricked into buying a truck and explosives used in the Tanzania bombing. Defense attorney Peter Quijano spoke after the sentencing outside the courtroom in lower Manhattan.

"Notwithstanding the fact that a jury found Ahmed Ghailani not guilty on all but one of 284 counts, including all of the conspiracy counts to bomb the embassies and all the conspiracy and substantive counts to commit intentional murder, of 224 innocent people - yet for the purposes of federal sentencing, on a single count of destroying buildings owned by the United States, a count which does not carry a mandatory life sentence, all those other verdicts are rendered essentially irrelevant," Quijano said.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara also spoke to reporters following the hearing, calling Ghailani a "vital member" of the East African terror cell that carried out the bombings.

"Finally, twelve and a half years after those devastating and despicable attacks, Ahmed Ghalani will pay for his crimes," Bharara said.

Quijano said he would appeal on several grounds, however, including that his client's right to a speedy trial had been compromised by more than five years of pretrial detention. He said Ghailani feels regret, but not remorse.

"He feels great sadness for the reality that he engaged in some conduct that helped lead to this, but he has been consistent all along that he did not know he was engaged in those aspects of conduct which led to these bombings," said Quijano.

Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004, held in CIA custody for two years, and then transferred to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 2006 to 2009. His acquittal on all but one count in November has caused the Obama administration to shift its plans for terrorism trials back to military tribunals rather than civilian courts.


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