Jury Convicts First Guantanamo Detainee in New York Federal District Court

Predictions of Chaos Surrounding Trial Fail To Materialize New York, NY – Today, a jury seated in the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, convicted Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani of conspiracy for assisting in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people and wounded hundreds more. Following the verdict, which caries a potential sentence of life in prison, Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar, who has been in the courtroom monitoring the case, 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 prosecutions. I have watched the hearings at Guantanamo and Ghailani’s trial in New York. What strikes me is how efficient, fair, and transparent the federal court prosecution was in contrast to the recent Khadr decision at Guantanamo which left one with the uneasy feeling of justice gone awry. The military commissions remain rife with constitutional defects. Federal courts have far more legal tools to prosecute terror suspects.” According to the Department of Justice, federal courts have convicted more than 400 terror suspects since 9/11. With the recent plea deal of Omar Khadr, the child soldier at Guantanamo, military commissions now have convicted five. In Washington, D.C., Republican leaders including Rep. Bohener have insisted that the Obama Administration try suspects at Guantanamo. Unnamed Administration officials this weekend signaled that due to political opposition, Khalid Sheik Mohammed would not be tried in either a federal court or a military commission, but instead detained indefinitely under the laws of war. Eviatar said, “Bringing KSM and the rest of the Guantanamo detainees to face justice in federal court is the right thing to do for those cases, for our justice system, and for America’s long-term interests in combating terrorism. The failure to bring to justice some of the most heinous criminals in U.S. history is a disservice to this country. If President Obama uses his recent political losses as an excuse for inaction, he will demonstrate not only that he has lost a midterm election, but that he intends to abdicate his responsibility as President to lead. President Obama must not let fear of political opposition make him too timid to do what is right.” Critics of federal court trials for terror suspects had warned that holding the trial in New York City would lead to chaos. For example, in a conference call with reporters arranged by the Republican National Committee, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani noted, “It would be safer if somebody like (Ghailani) were tried in military court.” According to The Wall Street Journal, however, “Federal officials say the New York Police Department…asked for no financial help to buttress security around the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan…[and]…there will be no street closures or extra officers assigned to security outside the courthouse.” Human Rights First conducted its own interviews of New Yorkers outside the courtroom and found the attitude to be business as usual. Here is a link to Human Right’s First video: http://www.youtube.com/user/HumanRightsFirstOrg#p/a/u/2/6I-W3JXAHBU Eviatar concluded, “The Obama Administration should act now to prosecute other terror suspects who remain at Guantanamo in federal court – a system that has proven much more successful and adept than commissions.” GHAILANI TRIAL BY THE NUMBERS

  • Financial help requested by New York City of the Federal Government for extra trial security: ZERO[1]
  • Street closures because of the trial: ZERO[2]
  • Extra police officers posted outside the courthouse: ZERO[3]
  • Incidents reported related to the trial (by New York Times, New York Post or New York Daily News): ZERO[4]
  • Courtroom disruptions during the trial: ZERO[5]
  • Terror trial convictions in the Southern District of New York Court since 9/11: 28[6]
  • Length of Ghailani trial in federal court: 57 Days
  • Length of Ghailani trial process in military commission before dismissal: 1 year, 2 months, 1 day[7]

The Critics Arguments Didn’t Add Up

  • Marc Thiessen called the trial a “catastrophe of [AG Eric Holder’s] own making” in the Washington Post.
  • Liz Cheney claimed, “By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania … If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”
  • In the National Review Andrew McCarthy speculated that an earlier ruling had destroyed the government’s case.

The final word: “The NYPD is saying that he’s not a great security risk,” says Julie Menin, president of the neighborhood community board. “The Foley Courthouse has tried many terrorist suspects over the years.”[8]


[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[5] David, Clerk, Open Records Department, Southern District of New York Court. Telephone interview. 9 November 2010.

Published on November 18, 2010

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