(CN) – A federal judge in Manhattan denied a former Guantanamo detainee’s bid to keep two military lawyers representing his case that will now be tried in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled that the Department of Defense did not violate alleged Al-Qaeda member Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani’s Constitutional rights by denying his request to retain his court-appointed lawyers, Lt. Col. Jeffrey P. Coldwell of the Marine Corps and Maj. Richard B. Reiter of the Air Force.
Coldwell and Reiter requests to represent Ghailani in federal court were denied, but they are allowed to remain involved in the defense to help “transition” the case to Ghailani’s court-appointed lawyer.
Ghailani is accused of conspiring in the 1998 bombings of American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200.
Ghailani was among the 14 “high value detainees” transferred to the U.S. navel base in Cuba from a secret CIA prison in 2006, and the first to be ordered to stand trial in the United States by President Obama.
He was previously charged for one of the bombings before a military commission at Guantanamo.
Kaplan’s ruling could affect other detainees, as it comes on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try five 9/11 suspects, including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in New York.
The Tanzanian-born Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and turned over to the CIA. Rather than arrest him for the bombings, the Bush Administration ordered him to remain in CIA custody for interrogations.
He was held for more than two years before being sent to Guantanamo..
His military lawyers had “established a good working relationship” with Ghailani, according to the judge, and “spent considerable time and effort preparing for Ghailani’s defense before the military commission, including several trips to meet with the defendant at Guantanamo.”
But President Obama suspended the commissions in May and announced that Ghailani would be brought to New York to face prosecution.
The judge rejected the government’s assertion that the court did not have the authority to make the call.
His 32-page opinion laid out specific examples of situations when it’s appropriate for a court to second-guess military decisions.
Citing the separation of powers, he said broad claims that question military strategy are “appropriately vested in branches of government which are periodically subject to electoral accountability,” quoting a passage from a Supreme Court ruling.
But Ghailani’s case “requires a purely legal determination for which the courts are particularly well-suited,” Kaplan wrote.
The judge pointed out that he was not ruling on the Secretary of Defenses’ authority or rationale for reassigning the attorneys, but whether the effect of the reassignment was unconstitutional.
He said Ghailani “is entitled to, and is receiving, representation of appointed counsel at public expense,” and that the “right to counsel of choice does not extend to defendants who require counsel to be appointed for them.””Colonel Colwell and Major Reiter have performed a service to their country as well as to their client by their steadfast devotion to his cause,” the judge wrote. “Their professionalism in seeking to remain in the case is admirable. The Secretary’s decision to reassign them, however, does not violate Ghailani’s rights.”