Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Guantanamo Detainee Arrives in U.S.




First Guantanamo Detainee Arrives in U.S.

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:23 AM

The Obama administration for the first time has transferred a Guantanamo Bay detainee into the United States, flying the suspect to New York early today to face federal charges in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.

U.S. Marshals took custody of Ahmed Ghailani, a Tanzanian, at the military prison in Cuba and moved him to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, officials said. He is expected to appear in federal court later today.

Ghailani faces multiple charges and, if convicted, could face the death penalty for his role in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

"With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people," Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. "The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case."

The decision to move Ghailani lays down an important marker for the administration, which wants to shut the military prison but has faced congressional resistance to the transfer of any Guantanamo inmates into the United States for resettlement, trial or further detention. A conference committee of Senate and House members of the Defense Appropriations committee has been considering language that would restrict the administration's ability to move detainees out of Guantanamo without a comprehensive plan for where to place them. Lawmakers also want assurance that taking detainees into the United States presents no risk to the country's national security.

Ghailani was indicted in New York before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and four of his named co-conspirators have already been tried and convicted and are serving life sentences in a super-maximum security prison in Colorado.

The Justice Department, sensitive to criticism from opponents of Obama's plan to shut the military prison, noted in a news release today that there are 216 inmates in federal prisons who have connections to international terrorism and that there has never been an escape from the supermax facility in Florence, Colo. Thirty-three convicted terrorists are held there, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid and Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Justice Department noted.

In a speech last month, Obama signaled that Ghailani's transfer was imminent and that "after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do." The decision to transfer him to New York followed a review of his case by a Justice Department-led inter-agency task force that is examining the cases of all 238 detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay.

Federal prosecutors allege that Ghailani obtained bomb materials, scouted the embassy in the Tanzanian capital, and escorted an Egyptian suicide bomber from Kenya to Dar es Salaam in advance of the nearly simultaneous blasts in Kenya and Tanzania. The bombing in Tanzania killed 11 people, all Africans, and 213 people were killed in the attack on the embassy in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Shortly before the bombings, Ghailani and a number of alleged co-conspirators fled to Afghanistan. Military prosecutors said he worked as a trainer at a terrorist training camp there and as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

Ghailani, a former Islamic cleric, was captured in July 2004 after a 10-hour shootout in the Pakistani city of Gujrat. He was taken to a CIA secret prison before he and 13 other "high value" detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, were transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006. He has been held there at the top-secret Camp 7 run by the CIA.

Ghailani's case will test the government's ability to secure a conviction despite legal questions surrounding the harsh interrogation techniques employed by the CIA during the questioning of high-value detainees. Although the government is likely to attempt to rely only on evidence secured long before Ghailani's capture, defense lawyers will almost certainly attempt to introduce evidence about his treatment at the hands of the government. Unlike other detainees, there have been no disclosures about which specific interrogation techniques Ghailani might have undergone.

In an interview earlier this year, Ghailani's military attorney, Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Colwell, said his client is eager to get to federal court.

"I know that he wants closure, resolution of whatever is going to happen to him," Colwell said. "Will there be complications with everything that has happened since his capture? Probably. But I think those need to be vetted out."

At a military hearing following his transfer to Guantanamo Bay, Ghailani attempted to present himself as an unwitting participant in the bombings.

"I would like to apologize to the United States government for what I did before," he said. "It was without my knowledge what they were

doing, but I helped them."


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