He didn’t commit a crime. He committed an act of war against the United States of America. So why did the U.S. Justice Department decide to put him on trial in a civilian court of law? That’s what I’d like to know! Because, frankly, his trial is not going so well and this guy might walk free after helping to cause the deaths of a dozen Americans and the wounding of thousands of others.
This is the risk we run when we put terrorists on trial in civilian courts rather than in front of military tribunals where they belong.
“He” is Ahmed Ghailani, a baby faced thirty-something man from Tanzania who has already confessed his role in Al Qaeda’s bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 that took the lives of 224 people. And, authorities say, after that carnage Al Qaeda rewarded Ghailani with a position as a bodyguard , cook and document forger for none other than Osama bin Laden himself. This Ghailani fellow had long term and daily knowledge of the activities of America’s #1 mortal enemy.
When Ghailani was captured in 2004 American intelligence sources decided he was, to quote a court brief, “a rare find” because his “recent interactions with top level Al Qaeda terrorists made him a potentially rich source of information that was both urgent and crucial to our nation’s war efforts.” In other words Ghailani was an enemy combatant and as such was treated not like a mere criminal but as a prisoner of war. This man hadn’t gone out and robbed the local liquor store. He had plotted with enemies of our country to kill as many Americans as possible. Under the Geneva Convention the capturing country gets to hold a prisoner of war until the conflict is officially declared to be over. As everyone knows the world’s war against terror is far from over.
While in CIA custody at so-called “black sites” in an unnamed country (or countries) Ghailani confessed his involvement in the U.S. embassy bombings and over time he spilled his guts about other Al Qaeda activities. After much valuable information was gleaned he was eventually sent to the American run detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he resided until last spring. That’s when the Obama Administration decided Ghailani should become the first Guantánamo detainee to be tried in America’s civilian court system. His trial got under way earlier this month in New York federal court. Yeah, the court not far from Ground Zero.
How’s the trial going? Well, not surprisingly, Ghailani took full advantage of all the presumptions of innocence offered by this country he so despises and entered a plea of not guilty. And, even before the trial started his defense attorney maintained that Ghailani had been tortured and so his confession shouldn’t count – even though he’d later repeated his confession a second time while under less stringent FBI questioning.
President Obama’s confident Justice Department prosecutors told the court they didn’t need the confession and promised they wouldn’t mention Ghailani’s pesky admissions of guilt to the jury. Then, there was the defense argument that the military’s long interrogation process deprived poor Mr. G of his right to a speedy trial. Thankfully, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan dismissed that argument and the trial got underway.
In opening statements the defense attorney described Ghailani as an innocent, trusting naïve “creature of his surroundings” whose favorite entertainment was watching cartoons. The jury was told the defendant had simply been
duped by a group of older men who turned out to be part of an East African terrorist cell. But prosecutors weren’t worried because they had an important witness in the wings who was set to spill important secrets. Hussein Abebe volunteered to testify that he was the one who had sold Ghailani the TNT used in the U.S. Embassy truck bombing in Tanzania. The defense objected to the witness being called because the CIA only learned about Abebe during their client’s disallowed confession.
In a decision that would likely never have occurred in a military proceeding Judge Kaplan ruled Abebe would not be allowed to testify. The prosecution now admits it has no other way to bring the evidence that Ghailani bought the deadly explosives to the jury. Their prime eye-witness has been tossed.
I understand that the Obama Administration really, really wants to convince other countries that America is fair in all we do, that our court system is the world’s most transparent. But with several other accused terrorists waiting in the
wings for their day in New York’s civilian court – including the self-professed organizer of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four of his henchmen accused in the plot – only the most dense intellect would fail to see the pitfalls.
What if the Ghalani jury buys the naïve cartoon-watcher defense and lets this man walk free? Are you prepared for him – and any of the others who escape justice via the risky civilian court process – to roam free and resume plotting against us? I’m not.