This was the guy whom Obama and Holder lined up as their test case to prove that, yes indeed, we can convict Gitmo jihadis using good old-fashioned civilian court procedures. All was well until last month, when the district court judge barred the feds’ blockbuster witness from testifying, even though he was prepared to tell the jury that he sold Ghailani the explosives used to destroy the U.S. embassy in Tanzania in 1998. The feds had only learned of the witness’s identity during enhanced interrogation of Ghailani, and since the interrogation was deemed illegal, evidence derived from it was inadmissible. Without that testimony, the case collapsed. And now, a month later, we have a full-blown fiasco on our hands.
He was the first Gitmo detainee they sent to civilian court. And thanks to today’s verdict, now he’ll probably be the last.
The defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property. He was acquitted of six counts of conspiracy, including conspiring to kill Americans and use weapons of mass destruction.
When the judge’s clerk asked how the jury found on counts 11 to 223, which were all counts of murder, the jury foreman replied, “Not guilty.”
Mr. Ghailani faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison…
He helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast, the evidence showed. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors said.
The defense claimed he was just a dopey errand boy in Al Qaeda’s sinister plot, even though he allegedly served as a bodyguard for the jihadi-in-chief himself. The Times piece tries to put a happy face on this for the White House, noting that the court sided with the feds in rulings before the trial that detention at Gitmo didn’t violate Ghailani’s right to a speedy trial and that enhanced interrogation didn’t warrant dismissal of the charges. In theory, that clears the way for trying other terrorists in civilian court. But in practice, it’s purely academic: Ain’t no way, no how, no chance the DOJ will risk an acquittal by bringing another high-ranking terrorist to trial in a district court. They might do it for no-name operatives, where the fallout from a “not guilty” verdict wouldn’t be totally disastrous, but the great national debate about whether to try KSM in a military court or in Manhattan is now well and truly over. In case it wasn’t already.
Over at Ace’s site, DrewM is aghast that the DOJ has released a statement claiming that they’re “pleased” with Ghailani’s conviction on just one of the hundreds of counts against him. Yeah, of course that’s mostly face-saving spin — but not entirely. If he had walked, Obama would now be in the excruciating position of having to decide whether to let him go, which would be an utter political disaster, or to re-arrest him and hold him on some sort of preventive detention grounds, which would be a civil libertarian nightmare (and a political disaster among his base). This, in a nutshell, is why they now favor simply leaving KSM in legal limbo and not trying him anywhere — because, even in a military tribunal, there’s at least a (very) small chance that he’ll be acquitted and Obama will face this same impossible dilemma on an epic scale. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Holder’s office right now.