How does one hold a criminal trial for a Gitmo detainee charged with 286 separate crimes? As though the Obama administration’s reputation on national security depends on it — because it does. Earlier this morning, the US flew Ahmed Ghailani from Guantanamo Bay, his home for almost three years, to New York City to stand trial for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998:
Ghailani, currently being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, faces 286 separate criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, including conspiring with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to kill Americans, and a separate charges of murder for each of the 224 people killed embassy bombings.
He is the first Guantanamo detainee transferred to the US to stand trial in federal court and will appear in a federal court in Manhattan later today.
“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 Holder 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.”
Ghailani is an expert document forger and travel facilitator, the US government says. Known within al Qaeda circles as “Haytham al-Kini,” Ghailani worked for al Qaeda’s former chief of external operations, Hamza Rabi’a — forging passports for al Qaeda members. Press accounts say he is also referred to as “Foopie” and “Ahmed the Tanzanian.”
Can we call him Foopie without violating the Geneva Convention?
On a more serious note, the Obama administration has taken a throw of the dice with Ghailani, although one with some reason for optimism. Bill Clinton sicced the FBI against Ghailani and the rest of al-Qaeda after the embassy bombings; His capture and detention at Guantanamo will probably have little to do with trying him on the hundreds of counts of murder and terrorism Foopie faces related to his actions in 1998. The problem facing the White House and DoJ on the rest of the inmates will be applying a law-enforcement standard in civil court, with the rules of evidence that do not account for the circumstances of war.
This point eludes the AP in their report:
Now, the Obama administration is trying to put him into the U.S. criminal justice system, despite claims by Republican critics that doing so would endanger American lives. Some lawmakers have opposed bringing any Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for trial, even in heavily guarded settings.
I’m not aware of anyone objecting to trying Foopie specifically in criminal court, as the government had most of its case built before the 9/11 attacks. The problem with bringing Gitmo suspects in general to the US for trial is that we didn’t use the law-enforcement method to capture most of them. We went to war in response to declarations of war, captured the detainees outside the jurisdiction of the US, and should adjudicate their cases in military tribunals where sensitive information can be protected. The problem isn’t that the Gitmo detainees would go berserk; it’s that criminal courts would most likely free them, allowing them to continue their jihad against the US unhindered.
And while some people might point to Ghailani as an example of why the law-enforcement model is preferable, it should be noted that we have Foopie in custody because we stopped using that model and went to a war footing.