MANHATTAN (CN) – In a recently unsealed 48-page letter, attorneys for former Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani asked for a lightened sentence, claiming their client suffered “humiliating torture” in U.S. custody, provided valuable information to the government and was an unwilling dupe in the bombings of two U.S. Embassies.
Convicted of only one of the 285 charges against him, Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay $33 million in restitution on Tuesday for conspiring to destroy U.S. property, causing death.
He was acquitted of hundreds of counts of murder and multiple conspiracy charges involving the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya that killed hundreds and injured thousands on Aug. 7, 1998.
Although the letter contains several pages that are blacked out, nonredacted portions describe in detail the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” that may have been used on Ghailani.
“Regardless of what euphemism is used, Ahmed Ghailani was tortured at the hands of the United States government,” lead attorney Peter Quijano wrote. “Indeed, it is well understood that the ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ employed by the United States government violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and customary international law.”
The letter includes a list of “standard measures,” such as shaving, stripping, diapering, hooding, white noise, light and extreme temperatures, and “enhanced measures,” such as sleep deprivation, face slapping, stress positions, and cramped confinement.
The attorneys say that “intrusive strip searches” triggered memories of abuse that nearly prevented Ghailani from attending his own trial.
“Because the anal strip search protocol used by the Bureau of Prisons to escort him from prison to court evoked an overwhelmingly disagreeable recurrence of memories of [REDACTED] subsequent torture, Mr. Ghalani was not sure that he would be able to endure those intrusive strip-searches. Fortunately, he was able to find ways to hold those fears at bay, and thus he managed to come to court. Nonetheless, it is evident that Mr. Ghailani still remains damaged by the after-effects of such humiliating torture,” the letter states.
The attorney say Ghailani should get a lightened sentence because of “significant contribution to our national security.”
“If this case has been called unique and historic, with myriad novel issues, Mr. Ghailani’s significant contribution to our national security provides yet another matter of first impression,” the letter states.
Those contributions have become a source of sparring between the defense and prosecution over whether the information Ghailani provided was coerced or voluntary. The defense claims the statements were coerced.
But prosecutors said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, filed Monday, that Ghailani’s attorneys called the statements “voluntary” in a sealed sentencing memorandum.
“The defendant has now reversed course,” prosecutors wrote. “In the January 21 sentencing letter, he contends that when he said the defendant’s interview was voluntary he did not mean it; rather, he meant only to ‘mark the distinction’ between the defendant’s interview and other statements … This is extraordinary.”
The New York Times reported on the night of the verdict that Ghailani had confessed to the FBI about his role in the bombings, but that he said he did not realize that the items he helped buy would destroy property or cause death until after he bought them.
He recalled “putting the pieces of the puzzle together” before the bombing, and regretted failing to step forward when he learned about the Tanzanian – but not American – deaths, the Times reported.
Toward the end of the defense attorneys’ letter, Ghailani’s lawyers quote his former defense counsel in Guantanamo, Marine Corps Col. Jeffrey P. Colwell.
“In my opinion, based upon my knowledge and contacts with both him and his family, Mr. Ghailani is not a radical jihadist, a terrorist, or a danger to society,” Colwell said. “Instead, Mr. Ghailani’s case is representative of how deceitfully terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda, truly operate preying on the weak, the poor, and the disenfranchised to do much of their dirty work.”
At his sentencing today, Ghailani faces a minimum sentence of 20 years. His former lead defense attorney Steve Zizzou, who withdrew from the case after the verdict, said he suspects that Judge Kaplan will give Ghailani a life sentence.