Terrorist's Trial on Trial
He didn't commit a crime. He committed an act of war against the United States of America.
So why did the U.S. Justice Department decide to put him on trial in a civilian court of law? That's what I'd like to know! Because, frankly, his trial is not going so well, and this guy might walk free after helping to cause the deaths of hundreds of Americans and the wounding of thousands of others.
This is the risk we run when we put terrorists on trial in civilian courts rather than in front of military tribunals where they belong.
"He" is Ahmed Ghailani, a baby-faced 30-something man from Tanzania who has already confessed his role in al-Qaida's bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 that took the lives of 224 people. And, authorities say, after that carnage al-Qaida rewarded Ghailani with a position as a bodyguard, cook and document-forger for none other than Osama bin Laden himself. Ghailani is a fellow who had long-term and daily knowledge of the activities of America's No. 1 mortal enemy.
When Ghailani was captured in 2004, American intelligence sources decided he was, to quote a court brief, "a rare find" because his "recent interactions with top level al-Qaida terrorists made him a potentially rich source of information that was both urgent and crucial to our nation's war efforts."
In other words, Ghailani was an enemy combatant and as such was treated not like a mere criminal but as a prisoner of war. He hadn't gone out and robbed the local liquor store. He had plotted with enemies of our country to kill as many Americans as possible. Under the Geneva Conventions, the capturing country gets to hold a prisoner of war until the conflict is officially declared to be over. As everyone knows, the world's war against terror is far from over.
While Ghailani was in custody at so-called "CIA black sites," he confessed his involvement in the U.S. embassy bombings and over time he spilled his guts about other al-Qaida activities. After much valuable information was gleaned, he was eventually sent to the American-run detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he resided until last spring. That's when the Obama administration decided Ghailani should become the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in America's civilian court system. His trial got underway earlier this month in New York federal court. Yeah, the court not far from ground zero.
How's the trial going? Well, not surprisingly, Ghailani took full advantage of all the presumptions of innocence offered by this country he so despises and entered a plea of not guilty.
President Obama's confident Justice Department prosecutors said they didn't need the confessions anyway and promised not to mention them to the jury. Thankfully, the defense argument that the military's long interrogation process deprived poor Mr. G of his right to a speedy trial was rejected by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, and the trial got underway.
In opening statements, the defense attorney described Ghailani as an innocent, trusting, naive "creature of his surroundings," whose favorite entertainment was watching cartoons. The jury was told the defendant had simply been duped by a group of older men who turned out to be part of an East African terrorist cell.
But prosecutors weren't worried because they had an important witness in the wings who was set to spill important secrets. Hussein Abebe volunteered to testify that he was the one who had sold Ghailani the TNT used in the U.S. embassy truck bombing in Tanzania. The defense objected to the witness being called because the CIA only learned about Abebe during their client's disallowed confession.
In a decision that would likely never have occurred in a military proceeding, Judge Kaplan ruled Abebe would not be allowed to testify. The prosecution now admits it has no other way to bring the evidence that Ghailani bought the deadly explosives to the jury. Their prime material witness has been tossed, they can't mention the confessions — so now what?
I understand that the Obama administration really, really wants to convince other countries that America is fair in all we do, that our court system is the world's most transparent. But with several other accused terrorists waiting in the wings for their day in New York's civilian court — including the self-professed organizer of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his henchmen accused in the plot — only the most dense intellect would fail to see the pitfalls.
What if the Ghailani jury buys the naive cartoon-watcher defense and lets this man walk free? Are you prepared for him — and any of the others who escape justice via the risky civilian court process — to roam free and resume plotting against us? I'm not.
Diane Dimond's new book, "Cirque Du Salahi — Be Careful Who You Trust," can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com. Visit Diane Dimond's official website at www.dianedimond.com for investigative reporting, polls and more. To find out more about Diane Dimond and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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