(CN) – The first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in civilian court will serve a life sentence after a federal jury in Manhattan found him guilty of playing a role in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. Embassies in East Africa.
Ahmed Ghailani, 36, who prosecutors say was an explosives expert for al-Qaida, requested leniency, claiming that he did not have firsthand knowledge of the embassy bombing plots and that he was tortured by the CIA.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan denied his request, saying the interrogation he faced “pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror he and his confederates caused.”
On Aug. 7, 1998, 224 people were killed and thousands injured when bombs took out two U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Prosecutors say Ghailani was a key player who bought gas tanks and a vehicle to further the plot.
Ghailani was arrested in Pakistan in 2004, and a jury convicted him of one count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings last November. Ghailani was acquitted of 284 other convictions, including over 200 murder charges.
Attorneys for the Tanzania-born man argued that the jury was reluctant to convict Ghailani since the prosecution’s evidence had been obtained through harsh CIA interrogations. Kaplan offered a different theory, noting that the jurors could have struck a “bargain” with the one charge “so everyone could go home.”
Kaplan’s sentence today came down despite a letter from Ghailani’s attorneys, unsealed just before the hearing, requesting a light sentence because their client had suffered “humiliating torture” in U.S. custody.