The first court conviction of a Guantanamo Bay detainee did little to push President Barack Obama closer to shuttering the island prison, making it increasingly likely his campaign promise will remain unmet by the time his current term expires.
Jurors in New York City on Wednesday convicted Ahmed Ghailani of conspiracy to blow up government buildings in the al-Qaida attacks on two U.S. embassies in 1998, but they acquitted him on more than 280 other charges. He is the only person transferred from Guantanamo Bay for trial since the U.S. began filling the military prison in Cuba eight years ago.
Despite the acquittals, which included murder counts for each of the 224 people killed in the bombings, the Justice Department said it was pleased Ghailani faces up to life in prison and said it would seek that sentence.
But senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions, conceded that the one-count conviction, combined with big electoral wins for Republicans this month, will make it harder to close the prison.
OK, he is guilty of blowing up buildings, but not for the murder of the people inside? Huh? What? Seriously? I am not the only one pronouncing this a disaster:
The Ghailani case also did little to resolve the question of what will happen to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.
The Justice Department had planned to prosecute those cases in civilian courts, but the administration reversed course amid political opposition. The move left a sour taste with some prosecutors, who felt the White House was letting political considerations influence the department, a criticism Democrats often lobbed at President George W. Bush.
Ghailani, like Mohammed, was held for years in a secret CIA prison overseas and subjected to some of the harshest interrogation tactics. His trial was seen as a test of whether those actions would sink the case or whether prosecutors could salvage a conviction. Prosecutors could face the same challenge in the 9/11 trials.
A federal judge prohibited prosecutors from calling a key witness in the Ghailani case, saying the witness had been identified while Ghailani was interrogated at the CIA prison.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is seen as key to any deal to close Guantanamo, said late Wednesday that he was disappointed with the Ghailani verdict and said the government was endangering the nation "by criminalizing the war."
"We are at war with al-Qaida," Graham said. "Members of the organization and their associates should be treated as warriors, not common criminals."
Even Lindsey "Democrat Lite" Grahamnesty gets it. This is a disaster. The guy gets off of murder and only gets about 20 years to life? But, he is still going to spend the rest of his life in jail no matter what as a high level prisoner, so really, once again, the Obama admin wasted taxpayer dollars and also bungled a case, allowing criminal rules of evidence to be used in what is historically viewed as military type cases.
And, as Clarice Feldman writes, no matter what, Obama's high minded ideals of civil trials and the criminal justice system just look like blatant hypocrisy anyway. Consider:
Because Attorney General Eric Holder shares with President Obama the notion that there is something wrong about military tribunals and something far better about trying captured suspected terrorists in civilian criminal courts which operate under far more rigid rules of evidence, he has flopped in suggesting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in Manhattan criminal court, something no sane New York politician will agree to.
Just days ago, the administration seemed to indicate that it recognized that the trial in New York wasn’t feasible. It still looked down on the notion of a military tribunal. The suggestion was that the administration wouldn’t try Mohammed at all — but simply hold him in indefinite detention:
Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, will probably remain in military detention without trial for the foreseeable future, according to Obama administration officials.
The administration has concluded that it cannot put Mohammed on trial in federal court because of the opposition of lawmakers in Congress and in New York. There is also little internal support for resurrecting a military prosecution at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The latter option would alienate liberal supporters.
The administration asserts that it can hold Mohammed and other al-Qaeda operatives under the laws of war, a principle that has been upheld by the courts when Guantanamo Bay detainees have challenged their detention.
How holding people for years without any trial (or even after they’ve been acquitted by a civilian jury) is fairer than a military tribunal, I cannot say. The article also says that Obama will make the final decision, so he may simply be hoping to run out the clock , thinking that when he’s re-elected he’ll be in a better position to force an unpopular civilian trial over the objection of local politicians. Or he may just be paralyzed with indecision, as he so often dithers on matters of great importance.
But before Holder reached that point on Mohammed, he decided to go ahead with a civilian trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, suspected as a key figure in the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Africa which killed 224 people. .
On Wednesday, the jury in that case decided that Ghailani was guilty on only a conspiracy count.
The outcome was not unexpected. In October, I signaled this was a likely result of the ill-considered effort to move these cases from Guantanamo for trial in civilian courts.
I wrote then:
Minutes before the start of the trial, which it seems the administration intended to be a “yes we can [successfully try these guys in civilian court]” to the naysaying legal analysts, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled the witness was barred from taking the stand because the prosecution had not proved to the court’s satisfaction that the government could have found out about the witness even if the confession he made to the CIA — a confession the government was not introducing into evidence — had not occurred.
Ghailani will not be freed despite the collapse of the government’s case. The judge also ruled that his status as an “’enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and al-Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.”
Basically, this is all political theater meant to assauge the loony left kook fringe of Barry the Buffoon's base:
And from the jury’s action it appears clear that without the evidence barred by the civilian rule that the government cannot use evidence which it obtained by improper interrogation means — even if that evidence is sound in every way — the jury had insufficient evidence to find the defendant guilty of the murder charges:
The first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on Wednesday of all but one of more than 280 charges of conspiracy and murder in the 1998 terrorist bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. …
The defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property. He was acquitted of four counts of conspiracy, including conspiring to kill Americans and use weapons of mass destruction. …
Mr. Ghailani faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
The notion that people like this should be tried under the rules of U.S. criminal law applicable to civilians is the sort of preposterous silliness that defies reason.
That even if they are acquitted in civilian courts we can and likely will continue to hold them in indefinite detention seems to me to underscore that these are show trials to appeal to the president’s left base. I don’t understand how the attorney general and president can think there is any benefit to this costly, risky enterprise. On the one hand, they stand to turn commonsense legal rulings on their heads and make martyrs of murderous thugs. On the other hand, the whole show trial aspect of it all undermines the rule of law.
Rule of Law? Constitution? What are Those? I mean, we have Security people groping women in the name of Big Sis, we are going to be forced to buy life insurance despite it not being Constitutional, and, we have a President who thinks the Constitution is "too negative."