Attorney Takes on ‘al-Qaida’ Accusation | Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 2, 2023
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Attorney Takes on ‘al-Qaida’ Accusation

MANHATTAN (CN) - In closing arguments, Ahmed Ghailani's defense attorney Peter Quijano faced head-on prosecutors' accusations that his client was a member of al-Qaida. Prosecutor Nicholas Lewin repeated the words "al-Qaida" more than 50 times during opening remarks, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Prosecutor Harry Chernoff concluded his summation on Monday by saying, "This is Ahmed Ghailani. This is al-Qaida. This is a terrorist. This is a killer."

Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, is accused of having planned and participated in the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya on Aug. 7, 1998.

Al-Qaida defector-turned government witness L'Houssaine Kherchtou, who said he was trained to be Osama bin Laden's pilot, testified for two days in the trial. Kherchtou said he did not know Ghailani, but the government called his testimony "especially valuable" for its credible details about the practices, beliefs and activities of al-Qaida.

In this transcript from the trial, Quijano spoke of the emotional power of the words:

"Al-Qaida. Al-Qaida. What emotions flood all of us when we even hear that word, al-Qaida. We sit here today in the shadow of where al-Qaida attacked us. Al-Qaida. We are naturally repulsed and overwhelmed with anger, revulsion, and yes, hatred the moment we are reminded that al-Qaida even exists.

"Al-Qaida, blindly committed to destroying all we hold dear, our way of live, our very existence.

"How much blood, pain, senseless horror have they caused to so many innocent - so many lives destroyed, so much sadness.

"The first day you came into this courtroom you heard the word al-Qaida. There has been evidence and testimony presented by the government about al-Qaida, Bin Laden, fatwas, a declaration of war against all of us, our country, our way of life, a fatwa urging the killing of any of us at any time there is an opportunity, al-Qaida.

"You would be less than human, less than any American not to feel the natural reaction to try and lash out if possible against this enemy that is al-Qaida, this monster that is al-Qaida.

"But you cannot. You must not permit this natural reaction in any way to affect your verdict in this case. I do not accuse the government of playing on these fears or emotions. They are professionals and I have the highest respect for their professionalism and integrity.

"However, you, the jury, must guard against that; and against that the evidence about al-Qaida and Bin Laden and the fatwas and the like in some way divert or misdirect you from a fair determination of the evidence and whether the evidence in this case, and only the evidence in this case, has proven Ahmed Ghailani guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Al-Qaida cannot be used to misdirect you from the facts of this case. It cannot be used to inflame your passions and desire for retribution and revenge at the expense of Ahmed Ghailani.

"You must guard against this at all costs, because to do so would be permitting al-Qaida to win. To do so would allow al-Qaida to successfully achieve what they want, that we turn our backs on the principles of justice that we hold so dear, the principles that make us unique among all countries in the world and all countries that have ever existed. You cannot let them win. The fact that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani can get a fair trial even in the face of these charges is precisely why they hate us.

You must be strong and guard against this natural fear and desire for retribution. For all al-Qaida has done to us and what they wish to do to us. Do so and you honor your oaths as jurors, and you prove to the world why there is no country on earth like ours.

"The danger of letting that fear get in the way of you deciding this case on anything but the facts and the applicable law would be giving al-Qaida the power to diminish and undermine the foundation upon which we stand, the Constitution, the rock upon which our nation rests.

"We must adhere to the basic principles that govern our nation not only when it's convenient to do so, but when fear and a natural desire for vengeance and retribution tempt us to pursue a different course.

'The government of the United States, the people of the United States, and especially the hundreds of victims affected by the bombing want these monsters responsible for these tragic bombings held accountable. They want justice. But to wrongly convict Ahmed Ghailani for the evildoings of these monsters would be to put aside the Constitution. To wrongly convict Ahmed Ghailani would not be justice, but yet another tragedy that our country suffers at the hands of al-Qaida.

"I will sit down in a moment; and after lunch the government will have the opportunity to rebut much of what I say. There is a reason for this. The burden is on them. They get the last word.

"But I get no similar opportunity. I only ask of you that you continue to honor and remain true to your oaths as jurors. If you continue to hold the government to its burden, make them prove each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt, including whether Ahmed knew, whether Ahmed knowingly and willfully joined this conspiracy, and now I beg you, you accept the law, you accept the law as Judge Kaplan tells you tomorrow, and then you literally apply it to the facts of this case, you continue to keep that promise, and there will be no need for me to rebut the government, because the law of this case, the facts of this case more than effectively rebut the government, because the law of this case, the facts of this case demand only one verdict.

"I most respectfully ask you to return a verdict of not guilty on all the counts."

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