The Obama administration’s plan to try Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts took a likely fatal blow when confessed terrorist Ahmed Ghailani was acquitted of all of the more than 280 charges brought against him except for one.
The one count Ghailani was convicted of was conspiracy to blow up government buildings in the al-Qaida attacks on two U.S. embassies in 1998. The New York jury did not convict Ghailani for conspiracy to kill the people who happened to be in those embassies when they were blown up.
The outcome of the case was likely inevitable when the judge threw out the testimony of a key witness because he was identified by Ghailani while under enhanced interrogation in a CIA prison. Ghailani still faces a jail term of 20 years to life for the one count of which he was convicted.
Indeed, considering the rules of evidence that were enforced by the judge, it is remarkable that Ahmed Ghailani was convicted of anything. It was entirely possible that Ghailani could have been acquitted of all charges and then gone out to the court house steps to celebrate with his lawyers before going off somewhere to plot again against Western Civilization.
This result is clearly a black eye for the Obama administration in general and Attorney General Eric Holder, who has championed the idea of trying enemy combatants in civilian courts, in particular. It should result in Holder’s resignation, but likely will not. To resign as a result of such a blunder requires a sense of shame over making them.
The problem is that enemy combatants like Ahmed Ghailani, as well as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who is also slated for a civilian trial, are rarely mirandized when taken on the battle field. Nor are they interrogated quite so nicely as shown on TV cop shows. Especially early during the War on Terror, CIA interrogators felt they could not afford to be nice when extracting information.
Trying such people in a civilian court, though, means civilian rules of evidence apply, as if people like Ghailani or Mohammed were bank robbers or rapists and not part of an existential threat against civilization.
One suspects that even someone as dim as Eric Holder will now realize that trying terrorists in civilian courts not only runs the risk of terrorists going free, but by so doing (and more importantly), inflicted another political slap in the face to the Obama administration. Likely, the Ahmed Ghailani result will be that not only will Guantanamo remain open indefinitely, but that this trial will be the last one conducted in a civilian court.
Source: Big Blow to Obama Administration As Gitmo Detainee Is Acquitted on All But One Charge, Matt Apuzzo, AP, November 18th, 2010