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Ahmed Ghailani gets life sentence for Al Qaeda bombing of US embassies

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Critiques of his civilian-court trial

The case marked the first trial of a Guantánamo detainee in a US civilian court. It was viewed as a test case to determine whether other military prisoners at Guantánamo – including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – would be tried in a federal court rather than by a special military commission at Guantánamo.

The case highlighted the challenges of affording full constitutional protections to terrorism suspects who were once held in secret detention overseas and subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by US intelligence officials.

A key government witness was barred from testifying at the trial that he sold TNT to Ghailani. Kaplan ruled that the testimony must be excluded because the witness’s identity was revealed to the US by Ghailani during coercive interrogation sessions. Defense lawyers said their client was subjected to “torture.”

Administration critics cited the shaky, one-count verdict as proof that Al Qaeda suspects should face trial at Guantánamo rather than in US courts. Last month, Congress approved a measure that bars the Obama administration from transferring Guantánamo detainees to the US for any purpose – including a civilian trial.

Others analysts have pointed to the Ghailani verdict as an example of the resilience and essential fairness of the US justice system.

The central focus of the trial was the coordinated truck bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on Aug. 7, 1998. The Nairobi attack killed 213 people. Eleven died in Dar es Salaam. Thousands were injured.

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