The first Guantanamo Bay detainee to have a U.S. civilian trial was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for his role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan called it a day of justice for Ahmed Ghailani as well as for the families of 224 people who died in the al-Qaida bombings, including a dozen Americans. Thousands more who were injured in the two attacks.
"The offense was horrific," Judge Kaplan said. "I am not persuaded that Mr. Ghailani is the harmless and innocent person as presented - not at all," he said.
The judge also fined Ghailani $32 million. Ghailani declined the opportunity to address the court when asked and stood for sentence.
The judge said the deaths and damage caused in the al-Qaida bombings outweighed anything the defendant suffered at the hands of the CIA.
"This does not condone what our government might have done - that is for another time. Today is about justice," Judge Kaplan said.
Ghailani, 36, was convicted late last year of conspiring to destroy government buildings but acquitted of more than 200 counts of murder and dozens of other charges. He had asked for leniency, saying he never intended to kill anyone and he was tortured.
Ghailani's lawyers argued that he was duped by friends into participating in the attack and was upset afterwards when he saw the damage done.
During sentencing, Judge Kaplan said he was satisfied that Ghailani, a Tanzanian national, knew and intended that people would be killed as a result of his actions and the conspiracy he joined.
"This crime was so horrible," he said. "It was a cold-blooded killing and maiming of innocent people on an enormous scale. It wrecked the lives of thousands more ... who had their lives changed forever. The purpose of the crime was to create terror by causing death and destruction on a scale that was hard to imagine in 1998 when it occurred."
Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and later interrogated overseas at a secret CIA camp. In 2006, he moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He was transfered to New York for prosecution in 2009, making him the first prisoner from Guantanamo to face a civilian trial.
Prosecutors argued that Ghailani was an active al-Qaida member and aware of the damage the bombings would cause. "He did not learn it in a seminar room, he learned it by doing ...by working with al-Qaeda even after the embassy bombings, even after 9/11," they said.
U.S. attorneys added that claim he was duped was an "insult to the truth, an insult to common sense, and insult to the victims.'
A group of survivors of the attack and family members of those who died spoke at the sentencing, including Sue Bartley, a Washington-area resident who lost her husband.
Bartley said the attacks were still fresh in her mind and "excruciatingly painful. What remains is a lingering, unsettling feeling that is compounded by grief, deep sadness and anger. The pain is with me every day. Often times it is unthinkable."
The trial had also been viewed as a test for President Barack Obama's aim of putting other terrorism detainees -- including self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed --on trial in New York.