The first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in an American civilian court has been acquitted on all but one of hundreds of terrorism charges.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian from Zanzibar, had been accused of conspiring in the 1998 al Qaeda car bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
The jury found him guilty of one relatively minor charge of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property by means of an explosive device.
He was cleared of 284 other counts which included murder and murder conspiracy.
The case has been viewed as a test of President Barack Obama’s plan to shut down Guantanamo Bay and try detainees in civilian courts.
We respect the jury’s verdict and are pleased that Ahmed Ghailani now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison U.S. Justice Department
His administration has adopted what it calls a flexible approach in dealing with terrorism suspects, favouring military tribunals in some cases and civilian trials in others.
Most Republicans say all terrorism suspects should be tried in military tribunals.
“We respect the jury’s verdict and are 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,” Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
Ghailani was held in CIA custody after his July 2004 arrest in Pakistan, moved to Guantanamo Bay in late 2006, and transferred to New York in June 2009 to stand civilian trial.
The government accused Ghailani of buying seven gas cylinders used in the bomb and the truck used to transport it.
We still truly believe he is innocent of all these charges Peter Quijano, Attorney
Prosecutors said Ghailani flew to Pakistan along with senior al Qaeda operatives on the day before the bombings, and that a blasting cap was found in a cupboard in his room.
Defence lawyers called Ghailani a naive boy who was tricked by al Qaeda and they denied Ghailani ever took the flight to Karachi.
Ghailani’s attorney, Peter Quijano, made a statement outside court: “At the start of this trial we believed Ahmed was truly innocent of all these charges. Please understand we still truly believe he is innocent of all these charges.
“Although Ahmed was not responsible we would like to express our sympathy for the 224 people who died and the hundreds of others who were injured on August 7 1998.”
Critics say Ghailani’s case undermines calls for civilian trials, even though he now faces 20 years in prison.
The UK’s independent terror legislation watchdog, Lord Carlile, says the trial shows a “sophisticated justice system” at work.
Other Guantanamo detainees due to face trial in civilian courts include the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Ghailani will be sentenced in January.
06 April 2011