Out Of Guantánamo: African Embassy Bombing Suspect To Be Tried In US Court

21.5.09

In a move that seems to open up a route out of Guantánamo for prisoners accused of having an active involvement with international terrorism that does not involve reviving the much-criticized system of trials by Military Commission, the Justice Department announced today that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, and one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from a secret CIA prison in September 2006, will be put on trial in a federal court in New York, following a thorough review of his case that was conducted by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by Barack Obama on his second day in office.

Ghailani, who is charged with “assist[ing] in the purchase of the Nissan truck as well as the oxygen and acetylene tanks that were used in the bombing of the US Embassy in Tanzania,” and who is “further alleged to have participated in loading boxes of TNT, cylinder tanks, batteries, detonators, fertilizer and sand bags into the back of the truck in the weeks immediately before the bombing,” admitted at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2007 that he “bought the TNT used in the bombing, purchased a cell phone used by another person involved in the attack and was present when a third person bought a truck used in the attack,” but apologized for his involvement, saying that he did not know that the supplies would be used to attack the embassy.

The decision to charge Ghailani in a federal court effectively repudiates his last five years of detention, since he was seized in Pakistan in 2004, as he was first indicted in New York in 1998 for “conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda to kill Americans overseas and for his role in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salam, Tanzania, which killed at least eleven people and caused injuries to at least 85 people,” and, as a result of superseding indictments, is now accused of 286 different charges, including participating in an al-Qaeda conspiracy “to murder, bomb, and maim US civilians anywhere in the world.”

The decision does not, however, address some uncomfortable facts about Ghailani’s last five years in US custody. As I wrote in an article when he was put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo in March 2008 (before the trials were suspended by Barack Obama, on his first day in office),

Ghailani did not allege, during his military tribunal, that he was tortured (unlike Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, whose torture by waterboarding was admitted by CIA director Michael Hayden), but during my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, I discovered a piece of information that indicated that, whether under duress, or by some other method, he had made a false allegation against one of the prisoners at Guantánamo.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the gathering of evidence used against the Guantánamo prisoners is the accumulation of allegations from [their tribunals and review boards, in which] an enormous number of claims are attributed to “a senior al-Qaeda operative” or “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant.” With no names given, it has been impossible to establish the source of these claims, although they are frequently so at odds with a previously established chronology of the prisoner’s actions — placing them at training camps and in guest houses when they were not even in Afghanistan, for example — that it’s readily apparent that many, if not most of these allegations were produced under duress, probably when supposed “high-value detainees” were being shown the “family album” of prisoners that was used from the earliest days of the US-run prisons in Afghanistan, in late December 2001.

On one occasion only, I discovered that one of these “al-Qaeda” sources had been named, and was none other than Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. As I explained in Chapter 20 of The Guantánamo Files, “The Yemeni Mohammed al-Hanashi … admitted to his tribunal in 2004 that he arrived in Afghanistan eight or nine months before 9/11, and that he fought with the Taliban. By the time of his review in 2005, however, new allegations had been added, including the claim that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani ‘identified him as having been at the al-Farouq camp [the main training camp for Arabs, associated in the years before 9/11 with Osama bin Laden] in 1998-99 prior to moving on to the front lines in Kabul.’ In other words, although al-Hanashi admitted traveling to Afghanistan to serve as a foot soldier for the Taliban, a man who was held in extremely dubious circumstances in another part of the world was shown his photo and came up with a story about seeing him two or three years before his arrival in Afghanistan, which would, henceforth, be regarded as evidence against him.”

What’s particularly ironic about Ghailani’s case, however, is that while he was held in secret prisons and, presumably, subjected to all manner of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to persuade him to make dubious confessions about other prisoners, four of his alleged co-conspirators were put through the federal court system in 2001, after a process of interrogation that did not involve the use of secret prisons and torture, and, after being convicted in May 2001, were sentenced to life without parole in October 2001, just six weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

In another ironic twist, it is presumed that the African embassy bombings were actually perpetrated by al-Qaeda as revenge for US involvement in one of several dozen examples of the pre-9/11 use of “rendition” under the Clinton administration, after four members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the terrorist group of al-Qaeda’ s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were seized in Albania and flown to Egypt, where one of the men reported that he was tortured, and two others were hanged. On August 5, 1998, al-Zawahiri threatened retaliation against the US “in a language they will understand,” warning that America’s “message has been received and that the response, which we hope they will read carefully, is being prepared.” The bombings took place two days later.

While I hope that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani’s trial in a federal court proceeds smoothly, and that justice will be done — and will be seen to be done — if he was indeed involved in the dreadful attacks of August 1998, the sad truth remains that the ghost of rendition and torture, and of a long, dirty covert war between international terrorists and the CIA, which expanded after 9/11 to affect the whole of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” has cast a cloud over his case that will ensure that no possible outcome will represent a shining day for justice.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on CounterPunch, ZNet and Antiwar.com. Also cross-posted on Common Dreams.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Four more charged, including Binyam Mohamed (June 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009).

26 Responses

  1. Frances Madeson says...

    The man’s been accused of shopping and gossip. A jury of New Yorkers will be able to sort it out.

  2. Out Of Guantánamo: African Embassy Bombing Suspect To Be Tried In US Court by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] To Be Tried In US Court by Andy Worthington Posted on May 21, 2009 by dandelionsalad by Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 21 May [...]

  3. First civilian criminal trial planned for Guantanamo detainee Ghailani « The Lift – Legal Issues in the Fight against Terrorism says...

    [...] More here and here. [...]

  4. Yemeni Prisoner Muhammad Salih Dies At Guantánamo by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] above is not the only piece of untrustworthy material masquerading as evidence in his file. As I reported just two weeks ago, when it was announced that one of Guantánamo’s “high-value detainees,” Ahmed Khalfan [...]

  5. My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] detainees,” Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an alleged associate of the African embassy bombers, will be tried in a federal court in New [...]

  6. Guantánamo: Charge Or Release Prisoners, Say No To Indefinite Detention by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] speech and the simultaneous announcement that one of Guantánamo’s “high-value detainees,” Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an alleged associate of the African embassy bombers, would be tried in a federal court in New [...]

  7. Andy Worthington: Why Trial Date For African Embassy Bombing Suspect Is Good News » A Couple Things » A couple things about politics, sports, travel, and other stuff. says...

    [...] I explained in an article in May, when the forthcoming trial was first announced, Ghailani was charged, inter alia, with [...]

  8. African Embassy Bombing Suspect To Face Trial In September 2010 by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] I explained in an article in May, when the forthcoming trial was first announced, Ghailani was charged, inter alia, with [...]

  9. Predictable Chaos As Guantánamo Trials Resume by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] court trials. Bizarrely, on the same day as Obama’s speech, the administration announced that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a suspect in the 1998 African embassy bombings, would face a trial in New York, and, moreover, in [...]

  10. “La ‘detención preventiva’ es una traición radical a nuestros valores más fundamentales” – P+DH [periodismo + derechos humanos] says...

    [...] de Obama y el anuncio, hecho al mismo tiempo, de que uno de los “detenidos de alto valor”, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, presunto cómplice de los terroristas que perpetraron el atentado contra las embajadas africanas, [...]

  11. Two More Guantánamo Prisoners Released: To Kuwait And Belgium by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Commission last November (which is currently being appealed — PDF), and does not include another, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, moved from Guantánamo to the US mainland in May this year, who — in a sure sign [...]

  12. Military Commissions Revived: Don’t Do It, Mr. President! by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] bombings before the Bush administration began its destructive “War on Terror,” and when he was moved to the US mainland to face a federal court trial in May this year, the Justice Department issued a press release [...]

  13. Military Commissions Revived: Don’t Do It, Mr. President! « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] bombings before the Bush administration began its destructive “War on Terror,” and when he was moved to the US mainland to face a federal court trial in May this year, the Justice Department issued a press release [...]

  14. Gitmo Prisoner “suicided”? | NO LIES RADIO says...

    [...] link between Ghailani and al Hanashi is significant for one reason only: According to Andy Worthington, Ghailani, who was tortured in the CIA’s black prisons, fingered al Hanashi in 2005 as having [...]

  15. Guantánamo: Idealists Leave Obama’s Sinking Ship by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Greenwald noted, bringing the story up to date: While the Obama administration commendably sent Ghailani to New York to be tried in a civilian court, it just announced two weeks ago that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, [...]

  16. Psyche, Science, and Society » Worthington: Definitive Guantanamo Prisoner List says...

    [...] at December 31, 2009, 574 prisoners had been released from Guantánamo (42 under Obama), one — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — had been transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial, six had died, and 198 [...]

  17. Guantánamo: The Definitive Prisoner List (Updated for 2010) « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] at December 31, 2009, 574 prisoners had been released from Guantánamo (42 under Obama), one — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — had been transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial, six had died, and 198 [...]

  18. Liberal Conspiracy » What happens now to Guantánamo? says...

    [...] at December 31, 2009, 574 prisoners had been released from Guantánamo (42 under Obama), one — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — had been transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial, six had died, and 198 [...]

  19. » New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania : To Be or Not to Be @abdolian.com says...

    [...] whereabouts are still unknown, although he was reportedly held in a Pakistani prison in 2006) and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (who was one of 14 HVDs transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006) were seized in 2004, outside [...]

  20. New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania : says...

    [...] whereabouts are still unknown, although he was reportedly held in a Pakistani prison in 2006) and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (who was one of 14 HVDs transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006) were seized in 2004, outside [...]

  21. In the Case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Torture Apologists Are Everywhere « Margot B. News says...

    [...] two years and two months), who was then held at Guantánamo for two years and eight months before his transfer to the US mainland in May 2009 to face charges of involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings in Nairobi and [...]

  22. Andy Worthington – On Guantanamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom « Kickingcrow's Weblog says...

    [...] was the decision to move a Guantánamo prisoner to New York to face a federal court trial, which took place in May 2009. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian seized in Pakistan in July 2004, was held in secret CIA [...]

  23. Obama’s Collapse: The Return of the Military Commissions « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Obama administration from Guantánamo to the US mainland to face a federal court trial (a move that took place in May 2009, before Congress decided to do all it could to usurp the President’s powers). When the jury in [...]

  24. Gvantanamo aizspogulija « socialismslv says...

    [...] trials and Military Commissions. In May 2009 the administration moved one man from Guantánamo,Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, to the U.S. mainland (and he wassentenced to life without parole in federal court last week). [...]

  25. Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] first group, the President has, in one instance, made a clean break from the Bush years, moving Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a “high-value detainee” who spent two years in secret CIA prisons before his arrival at [...]

  26. Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators by Andy Worthington | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] of Guantánamo by January 2010, as Obama promised on taking office. In fact, one prisoner — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, allegedly involved in the African embassy bombings in 1998 — has already been put forward for […]

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