Jurors Deliver Mixed Verdict in Guantanamo Detainee Trial - NBC New York

Jurors Deliver Mixed Verdict in Guantanamo Detainee Trial



    Jurors Deliver Mixed Verdict in Guantanamo Detainee Trial
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    UNDATED: In this screen grab from the FBI, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is pictured under the most wanted terrorist list. (Photo by FBI via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani s

    A civilian jury convicted the first Guantanamo terror suspect of just one conspiracy count but cleared him all other counts.

    Ahmed Ghailani, who had been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2006, was sent to New York for trial for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

    Ghailani was convicted of conspiracy to damage federal buildings and could still face a life sentence -- but he was cleared of all other 280-plus terror and murder related counts.

    After the the jurors left the courtroom, Ghailani hugged his lawyer.

    Defense attorney Peter Quijano welcomed the acquittals. He said the one conviction would be appealed.

    "We still truly believe he is innocent of all these charges," Quijano said. Still, Ghailani, who could have faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted of some of the other counts, "believed he got a fair trial," he added.

    "This verdict is a reaffirmation that our judicial system is the greatest ever designed," said Quijano.

    Defense lawyers had portrayed Ghailani as an unwitting dupe who was used by al Qaeda to unknowingly help in the bombings. Prosecutors had said he was a cold blooded terrorist who helped kill for Osama Bin Laden.

    Ghailani, 36, was charged with loading bomb components into a truck in the Tanzania attack as well as playing a role in the Kenya bombing. Prosecutors said he then fled to Pakistan.

    Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 then taken to Guantanamo in 2006. He was brought last year to New York, where others involved in the bombings also stood trial and were convicted. The jury verdict convicting on just one count could be a sign of how difficult the Justice Department might find prosecuting terrorists once detained and questioned at the military prison facility.

    The verdict by the six man, six woman jury came after a four week trial -- and a bumpy deliberative phase. One juror had sent a note during the course of the five days of deliberations requesting to be let of the panel because she felt the other jurors were pressing her to change her mind.

    While allowing the trial to go forward, the federal judge did not allow prosecutors to call a witness who claimed he knew Ghailani had purchased explosives for the attacks. And prosecutors also did not introduce alleged confessions made by Ghailani when questioned by government interrogators. 

    The bombings killed 224 people including 12 Americans.  Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the attacks.

    The day before the bombings, Ghailani fled by boarding a one-way flight to Pakistan under an alias, prosecutors said. While on the run, he spent time in Afghanistan as a cook and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and later as a document forger for al-Qaida, authorities said.

    He was captured in 2004 in Pakistan and held by the CIA at a secret overseas camp. In 2006, he was transferred to Guantanamo and held until the decision last year to bring him to New York.

    Federal prosecutors had called Ghailani a cold-blooded killer and terrorist who they said bought a truck and explosive components for the bombers before slipping away to Pakistan.

    But the defense argued that Ghailani didn't know about the plot. His lawyer called him a "dupe" and a "fall guy" for senior terror operatives.

    The trial in the lower Manhattan federal courthouse had been viewed as a possible test case for President Barack Obama administration's aim of putting other terror detainees — including self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — on trial on U.S. soil.

    Ghailani's prosecution also demonstrated some of the constitutional challenges the government would face if that happens. On the eve of his trial last month, the judge barred the government from calling a key witness because the witness had been identified while Ghailani was being held at a secret CIA camp where harsh interrogation techniques were used.

    Despite losing its key witness, the government was given broad latitude to reference al-Qaida and bin Laden. It did — again and again.

    "This is Ahmed Ghailani. This is al-Qaida. This is a terrorist. This is a killer," Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff said in closing arguments.

    The defense never contested that Ghailani knew some of the plotters. But it claimed he was in the dark about their sinister intentions.

    "Call him a fall guy. Call him a pawn," lawyer Peter Quijano said in his closing argument. "But don't call him guilty."

    Quijano argued the investigation in Africa was too chaotic to produce reliable evidence. He said local authorities and the FBI "trampled all over" unsecured crime scenes during searches in Tanzania.