Terror case: Is one conviction and 284 acquittals a success?
Ahmed Ghailani's acquittal on 284 of 285 counts revives criticism of the Obama administration's policy to try terror cases in civilian courts. White House hails the single conviction as a victory.
Wednesday’s acquittal of alleged Al Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Ghailani on 284 of 285 charges is reigniting a debate over whether terror suspects should be tried by military commissions at Guantánamo rather than in civilian courts in the US.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Boehner, who has been elected to become speaker in January, is calling for legislation that would require alleged terrorists to be tried by military courts, rather than civilian courts.
His comments were in response to the announcement late Wednesday that a federal jury in New York City had found Mr. Ghailani guilty of engaging in a terror conspiracy. But the panel also acquitted the long-time Guantánamo detainee of all 284 other charges.
Conspiracy conviction emphasized
Officials at the Justice Department and White House brushed aside the prosecution’s weak showing in the New York trial, portraying the single-count conviction as a victory. They emphasized that Mr. Ghailani is facing 20 years to life in prison after being found guilty on the conspiracy charge.
“I would point out, as a general matter, that there are very few federal crimes that carry a mandatory minimum of 20 years,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Mr. Gibbs told reporters that the administration had not ruled out civilian courts for future terror trials.
But the administration’s position on the issue has been murky since Attorney General Eric Holder reversed a decision to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the same federal courthouse in lower Manhattan in which Ghailani’s trial was held.
It remains unclear whether President Obama and Mr. Holder are still interested in bringing Mr. Mohammed to the US for trial. Other options include a military commission or simply continuing to hold Mohammed without charge at Guantánamo as an unlawful combatant.
Criticism of the Ghailani trial wasn’t exclusively from Republicans. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia said Thursday the verdict “affirms what I and others have said from the beginning: those charged with crimes of war and those who have been determined to be dangerous law-of-war detainees do not belong in our courts, our prisons, or our country.”
He added: “I again call on President Obama to use the new military commission system that is in place to try the terrorist detainees currently held at the Guantánamo detention facilities.”
The Ghailani trial was being closely watched because he was the first Guantánamo detainee transferred by the Obama administration from the detention camp in Cuba to stand trial in a civilian court. As a criminal defendant, Ghailani was entitled to full constitutional protections.