MANHATTAN (CN) – A defense attorney grilled key government witnesses Wednesday about money they were paid to testify and pressure they may have encountered from Tanzanian National Police officers. The questioning aimed to cast doubt on potentially damaging testimony from a cousin of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and a welder who claimed he sold gas tanks to Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court. He is accused of helping to plan and execute truck bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya on Aug. 7, 1998, which killed more than 200 people.
If convicted, Ghailani could be sentenced to life in prison. He could be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant even if he is acquitted.
On Wednesday, Ladha Hussein testified that his cousin, Ghailani, sometimes visited his family “twice a week, maybe once a week.” So he was surprised when Ghailani visited him one day “to tell me he was going to study in Pakistan.”
“I didn’t see him after that for a while,” Hussein said.
On another occasion, Ghailani introduced him to a “friend” from Mombasa in a white, Nissan pick-up truck, like the one used in the bombing, Hussein said.
Prior testimony established that Ghailani was seen with two other Embassy bombing suspects in Mombasa: Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan and Fahid Mohamed Ally, who were reported killed in drone strikes last year.
Less than a month before the bombing in Dar es Salaam, Ghailani told his cousin that he was going to “look for livelihood in Yemen,” Hussein said.
When Hussein said that he “heard that life there is very difficult,” Ghailani responded, “I’m going to try.”
After Ghailani left, Hussein said, “I never saw him again.” He added, “I see him today.”
At that point, prosecutor Michael Farbiarz had Hussein identify Ghailani, and the witness pointed out that he was wearing a gray shirt.
During cross examination, Hussein said that a Tanzanian National Police officer tried to prevent him from seeing defense attorneys, and he appeared to lose count of the money the U.S. government had given him to testify.
Hussein said that defense attorneys flew into Dar es Salaam to meet with him in March and informed him that he had a right to speak to them, or not. He said he decided to meet with them, but a Tanzanian National Police officer named Nicholas tried to put a stop to it.
Nicholas got angry at Hussein when he learned of the scheduled meeting, took away his cell phone, and returned it only after the appointment was over, Hussein said.
After the government and the FBI learned about the incident, they arranged for him to meet with defense attorneys, Hussein said.
Hussein said that another Tanzanian National Police officer, named Valentine, accompanied him.
According to court documents, a TNP officer named Valentine Mlowola botched the arrest, detention and interrogation of Hussein Abebe when he was senior superintendent. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan has barred Abebe from testifying in a ruling that pointed out that Abebe was arrested without a warrant, was not informed of the charges against him and received implied threats.
Hussein also testified that the U.S. government gave him about $100 for his wife and five children in Dar es Salaam while he was away.
When asked if he was given any more money after arriving in America, Hussein reached into his pocket and fished for his wallet, as laughter swelled in the court. After he finished counting, he said that the government had given him $436 so far.
Hussein denied being pressured by anyone to testify against Ghailani.
Defense attorney Peter Quijano also tried to cast doubt on the testimony of welder Flenan Shayo, who testified on Tuesday that Ghailani bought gas tanks from him.
Quijano suggested that although Shayo was first questioned in 1998, last week was the first time he had told anyone the transaction.
On the hot seat, Shayo said that he met with the FBI “many times” after the attacks and met with prosecutor Michael Farbiarz twice since arriving in New York City last Thursday.
Like Hussein, Shayo testified that an officer from the Tanzanian National Police has traveled with him since his plane landed.
Quijano, raising his voice and pounding the podium with his fingers, asked Shayo if he told an FBI agent or federal prosecutor about the gas tank sale “any time before last week.”
Shayo replied, “I don’t remember.”
Shayo said he earned 600,000 Kenyan shillings a week at his job – by Quijano’s estimate, $450 – and said that U.S. government authorities gave him a $150 food stipend for his family along with $110 per day for him in America.
Asked if this was a lot of money for him, Shayo replied, “It’s a little bit of money.”
In redirect examination, prosecutor Farbiarz mentioned the food stipend and asked about the size of Shayo’s family. Like Hussein, Shayo has five children.
After the trial ended for the day, Farbiarz told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan that the government’s case has moved unexpectedly quickly, and it might rest its case as early as next week. “We are truly flying,” Farbiarz said.
Quijano revealed that the defense’s case will include a “series of FBI agents for impeachment.” Several of his cross-examinations have tried to show inconsistencies between witnesses’ court testimony and FBI transcripts of their interviews.
Quijano indicated that it was unlikely that Ghailani would take the stand.