Ahmed Ghailani gets life sentence for Al Qaeda bombing of US embassies
A US judge rejected leniency for Al Qaeda conspirator Ahmed Ghailani, who alleged mistreatment during harsh interrogations. His trial was the first of a Guantánamo detainee in a civilian US court.
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The government’s case showed that Al Qaeda spent months assembling various teams to scout targets, gather bomb components, build the truck bombs, and deliver the bombs to the targets. It even had an escape plan.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Guantanamo Bay ten years and counting
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Ghailani's role a central issue
The central issue in the case was to what extent Ghailani was a full participant in the bombing plot.
Prosecutors portrayed Ghailani as a willing Al Qaeda recruit who operated at the heart of a terror cell methodically plotting to conduct mass murder.
“The defendant traded away everything in his life. His family, his friends, his job, his country, his name – all for a chance to kill as many people as possible,” wrote assistant US attorney Michael Farbiarz in the government’s sentencing memorandum.
“This was an appalling choice to make,” Mr. Farbiarz added. “The man who would make it is evil.”
Prosecutors presented testimony and evidence showing that Ghailani played a part in purchasing the Nissan Atlas refrigeration truck used for the bombing. He also played a role in purchasing 220 pounds of TNT, 15 gas cylinders filled with oxygen and acetylene, about 100 detonators packed with explosive PETN, and large bags of fertilizer.
Defense lawyers did not dispute that Ghailani was involved in purchasing the truck and other key components used to assemble the Dar es Salaam bomb. But they said he was a “dupe” used to conduct public transactions that would shield the involvement of the true Al Qaeda conspirators.
Ghailani’s lawyers say the 284 not-guilty verdicts demonstrate that the jury did not believe Ghailani was involved in premeditated mass murder. His role was something less, they said.
“Only after arriving in Pakistan did Mr. Ghailani learn the details and scope of the conspiracy, and to his horror, the enormity of how he had been used by those he considered to be his friends,” wrote Peter Quijano in his sentencing memorandum. “Upon hearing news reports of the bombings, he felt devastated.”
Federal prosecutors had asked Judge Kaplan to sentence Ghailani to life in prison. Defense lawyers said their client should receive a sentence of less than life in recognition of the jury’s verdict.
In 2001, four Al Qaeda suspects were tried and convicted in New York for their involvement in the embassy bombings. The four were convicted on all counts. All four received life sentences.
A defendant found guilty of only one count should receive a lesser sentence, Ghailani’s lawyers said. Kaplan was not convinced.
Defense lawyers also argued that Ghailani deserved a lesser sentence because of the harsh conditions of his treatment by the US government since his capture in 2004 in Pakistan. The lawyers say Ghailani endured “torture” for two years at a Central Intelligence Agency black site overseas. He was later held for three years at the terror prison camp at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.
Ghailani was transferred to New York City for trial in 2009. He is being held in an isolation cell in a high-security wing of the federal lockup.
Defense lawyers had also argued that Ghailani’s sentence should be further reduced in recognition of valuable intelligence information Ghailani provided the US government during his interrogations.