MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge refused to dismiss the case of an alleged al-Qaida member accused of the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in east Africa. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that holding the suspect in CIA custody and at Guantanamo Bay did not violate his right to a speedy trial.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is facing charges arising from the attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The nearly simultaneous truck bomb explosions killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens, and injured more than 1,000 others.
Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for both attacks, and the FBI added Osama bin Laden to its Ten Most Wanted list.
Judge Kaplan said that four of Ghailani’s co-defendants have already been tried and sentenced.
The alleged embassy bomber argued that the case against him should be dismissed on the ground that the nearly five-year delay between when he came into U.S. custody and his presentation before a federal court violated his right to a speedy trial.
“Although the delay of this proceeding was long and entirely the product of decisions for which the executive branch of our government is responsible, the decisions that caused the delay were not made for the purpose of gaining any advantage over Ghailani in the prosecution of this indictment,” Kaplan wrote.
Ghailani became the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be ordered into the civilian legal system, following the Obama administration’s decision to try terror suspects in U.S. federal courts instead of military tribunals.
While Ghailani was at large, the government claims, he worked as a cook and a bodyguard for bin Laden, and later as a document forger.
After the 1998 bombings, he remained on the run for years, finally being captured in 2004 by a foreign nation, the judge said. He was then transferred to the custody of the CIA, which interrogated him for roughly two years at one or more secret sites, according to the ruling.
Many details of the CIA program and its application to individuals remain classified, but the CIA did use “standard” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques in order to obtain “critical, real-time intelligence about terrorist networks and plots,” according to Kaplan.
The CIA then turned him over to the Department of Defense, which detained him at the U.S. navel base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for about three more years.
Judge Kaplan decision rested, in part, on the fact that “two years of the delay served compelling interests of national security.”
The judge said the delay was legal due to the intelligence gleaned from the “high value” detainee.
“Suffice it to say here that, on the record before the court and as further explained in the supplement, the CIA Program was effective in obtaining useful intelligence from Ghailani throughout his time in CIA custody,” Kaplan wrote. His ruling contained a classified supplement detailing the specific interrogation techniques used on Ghailani.
Ghailani’s case will no doubt affect other Guantanamo detainees ordered to face charges in U.S. criminal courts, including alleged 9/11 conspirators.
Kaplan acknowledged the controversial issue.
“The court understands that there are those who object to alleged terrorists, especially non-citizens, being afforded rights that are enjoyed by U.S. citizens,” the judge wrote. “Their anger at wanton terrorist attacks is understandable. Their conclusion, however, is unacceptable in a country that adheres to the rule of law.”
Kaplan also ruled that Ghailani’s status as an “enemy combatant” barred him from being released from U.S. custody until the country is no longer fighting al-Qaida.
“None of the entire five-year delay of this prosecution subjected Ghailani to a single day of incarceration that he would not otherwise has suffered,” the ruling states. “He would have been detained for that entire period as an enemy combatant regardless of the pendency of this indictment. None of that delay prejudiced any interests protected by the Speedy Trial Clause in any significant degree.”
Kaplan previously denied Ghailani’s bid to have his case dismissed due to alleged torture, and his attempt to keep two military lawyers for his upcoming criminal trial in Manhattan.