MANHATTAN (CN) – “This is Ahmed Ghailani. This is al-Qaida. This is a terrorist. This is a killer,” prosecutor Harry Chernoff said in concluding his closing argument in the trial of the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court. In his daylong summation, Chernoff reviewed the evidence: fingerprints, explosive residue, forged passports, plane tickets, hotel records, phone records and detonators, which he said linked Ghailani to the 1998 truck bombings of U.S. Embassies that killed 224 people and injured thousands.
Ghailani faces 286 counts, including murder and conspiracy, accusing him of helping to plan and execute the Aug. 7, 1998 bombings U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.
Chernoff methodically consulted transcripts of government witnesses who testified that they saw Ghailani purchase gas tanks, broker the sale of a truck used in the bombings, enter buildings where explosives were made, and use a locked armoire where a detonator was found.
Peppering his summation with references to al-Qaida, Chernoff described the defendant’s role in the conspiracy of the Embassy bombings as “what Ghailani did to make Osama bin Laden’s wishes come true.”
Chernoff began by focusing on the testimony of L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who said during almost two days on the stand that he was trained as bin Laden’s personal pilot.
Chernoff said Kherchtou’s testimony was “especially reliable” because he did not know Ghailani, having defected from al-Qaida before he could have met “the new recruits.”
But Chernoff said Kherchtou identified men linked to Ghailani, including Mustafa Mohamed Fadhil, who was said to have lived in Ghailani’s room, and Abu Mohammed al Masry, a trainer of new recruits who shared a flight to Pakistan with Ghailani the day before the bombing.
Kherchtou also testified about al-Qaida training, procedures, beliefs, and practices which Chernoff said were useful to understanding such things as the use of multiple aliases by recruits.
Chernoff said Ghailani had two fake passports because one was “not good enough.” One forged passport was in the name of Omar Sharif Mohamed, the other under the pseudonym Abubakar Khalfan Ahmed.
Although Ghailani told friends and family that he was going to Yemen, he used the passport to board a flight to Pakistan with senior al-Qaida operatives, Chernoff said.
“Ghailani remained a fugitive from justice for nearly 6 years,” before he was arrested, Chernoff said.
The prosecutor derided the defense attorney’s depiction of Ghaliani as a “dupe,” who was “naïve” and “more of a boy than a man.”
Dubbing that line of argument the “too young-looking to be a terrorist defense,” Chernoff said that in 1998, the 24-year-old Ghailani was older than two of his suspected co-conspirators.
“He was not a child. This is not a court of juvenile justice,” Chernoff said.
He added that that it was unlikely that the terror network would keep around a “dupe” because they were “vigilant of spies in their midst.”
Kherchtou testified that suspected spies in the organization were regularly beaten and killed.
Chernoff said that Ghailani’s attorneys operated on the principle that “the best defense is a good offense,” and “attacked witness after witness,” suggesting that testimony they “didn’t like” was “bought and paid for.”
Defense attorney Peter Quijano grilled several witnesses about stipends they received from the U.S. government to testify.
Chernoff said the “modest advances of $150” went to support families with five children back in Tanzania while the fathers were abroad, testifying. He said the fees were set by Congress for all federal trial witnesses, whether testifying for prosecution or defense.
Chernoff brushed aside suggestions that the Tanzanian National Police intimidated government witnesses, an argument that came to play after Ghailani’s cousin testified that a TNP officer confiscated his phone to prevent him from consulting with defense attorneys.
The “remarkable” witnesses came “voluntarily” and “without compulsion,” Chernoff said. For their efforts, they were “subjected to withering cross-examination” and “yelled at,” but “none of them recanted,” he added.
“A lawyer’s questions are evidence of nothing, no matter how many times they repeat it or how loudly they repeat it,” Chernoff said.
Chernoff dismissed defense attorneys’ suggestions that Ghailani’s clean-shaven appearance and Western clothes showed that he was not as radical as his bearded friends, who wore Islamic religious attire more often.
Jihadist manuals advise members to blend into their surroundings, and suggest that new recruits be assigned to missions because they are less likely to be under surveillance, Chernoff said.
“That’s why Ahmed Ghailani and his murderous friends were recruited. … They were eager to wage jihad, eager to kill,” the prosecutor said.
Court documents show that after Ghailani was arrested in Pakistan, he was transferred to CIA custody, where he was “subjected to extremely harsh interrogation” that Ghailani contends “constituted torture.”
Three totally blacked-out pages follow this quotation. The jury has been shielded from knowing about his treatment in CIA custody, which has not come up in the prosecution’s or defense’s arguments.
The defense will present its summation today (Tuesday). Then prosecutor Michael Farbiarz is expected to deliver a rebuttal summation.