US court upholds embassy bombings conviction, rejecting speedy trial claim

The appeals court rejected the argument that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former Al Qaeda operative, should have his conviction and life sentence overturned because he didn't have a speedy trial.

Elizabeth Williams/AP/File
In this courtroom sketch, former Al Qaeda operative Ahmed Ghailani listens to proceedings as he is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1998 truck bomb attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Jan. 25, 2011 in Federal Court in New York.

A federal appeals court in New York Thursday upheld the conviction and life sentence of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former Al Qaeda operative who helped assemble parts used in the 1998 truck bomb attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The three-judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an argument by Mr. Ghailani’s lawyers that his conviction should be overturned because the US government violated Ghailani’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The lawyers argued that there was a five-year delay between the time the US government took custody of Ghailani and when he was actually put on trial.

The Sixth Amendment reads in part: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy … trial.”

Ghailani was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 1998 for his alleged role in the embassy bombings. The attacks killed 224 people. Ghailani was captured in 2004, but was not placed on trial until 2010.

In the intervening years, he was held at a secret detention facility and interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency seeking actionable information about pending terror attacks. He was later transferred to the terror detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. Eventually, he was moved to New York to stand trial in a civilian court.

Ghailani’s lawyers argued that once the government presses formal charges against someone, it must act expeditiously to facilitate a speedy and public trial.

In rejecting that argument, the appeals court said the speedy trial right was not absolute. Instead, the judges said it involved a balancing of interests, including protection of US national security – an interest that could outweigh the speedy trial interest of a criminal defendant.

“We observe nothing in the text or history of the Speedy Trial Clause that requires the government to choose between national security and an orderly and fair justice system,” the court said.

“To the contrary, the Speedy Trial Clause preserves both the interests of the defendants and the societal interest in the integrity of the justice system by balancing those interests to determine whether the requirements of the Clause have been violated.”

The court concluded: “We observe no basis for, and reject in full, Ghailani’s argument that, once having detained a defendant as a national security intelligence asset, the government can no longer bring the defendant to trial.”

The court said there was no bright-line answer to precisely how much of a delay would be too long. But the judges noted that delays of five years and seven years had been upheld in other criminal cases.

The speedy trial right is intended to prevent the government from seeking to punish a defendant through excessive pre-trial detention. It is also intended to prevent the government from delaying a trial in a way that would undercut a defendant’s ability to present an effective defense to the charges.

The court found that the delays in Ghailani’s case did not prejudice his ability to mount a defense, and were unrelated to the criminal prosecution.

“For well over a century, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government may purposely delay trials for significant periods of time, so long as, on balance, the public and private interests render the delay reasonable,” the appeals court said.

In upholding Ghailani’s sentence of life in prison, the appeals court said it was not substantively unreasonable for a federal judge to send a defendant to prison for the rest of his life after being convicted of conspiring to attack US buildings in a plot that caused the deaths of 224 individuals.

The case is US v. Ghailani (11-320-cr).

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to US court upholds embassy bombings conviction, rejecting speedy trial claim
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today