Selection of a jury began Wednesday in a New York courtroom in the first civilian trial of a terrorism suspect once held at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Fifty-three potential jurors seated in a large federal courtroom were introduced to the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. The Tanzanaian national is accused of terrorism charges related to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, as well as participation in an al-Qaida conspiracy to bomb, maim and murder U.S. civilians anywhere in the world.
Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and transferred two years later to the Guantanamo Bay detention center. His trial in New York follows an Obama administration decision to move proceedings against Guantanamo terrorist suspects from military to civilian courts.
Ghailani briefly faced the potential jurors, who were then asked whether any of them knew him. None of the jurors indicated that they had seen him before. The jurors were then questioned by federal judge Lewis Kaplan, who explained that he was seeking to determine whether the jurors could render a fair and impartial verdict in this trial. Some of his questions related to the use of accomplice or cooperating witnesses, the prosecution of an individual in a U.S. court for crimes allegedly carried out elsewhere in the world and the use of evidence acquired in searches by law enforcement officers.
During the jury selection, Ghailani sat at a long defense table surrounded by five of his attorneys. At the end of the questioning, Judge Kaplan spoke privately with both defense lawyers and prosecutors. He then returned to the courtroom and announced that 16 of the 53 potential jurors had been excused because their jury service would have been a hardship or because of challenges from the attorneys. Additional jurors are also being questioned.
Twelve jurors and several alternates will be selected for the trial, which is expected to begin next week with opening statements by the prosecution and the defense. The trial is expected to last several weeks.
In an earlier hearing, Judge Kaplan told the jurors that under U.S. law, Ghailani is presumed innocent and that presumption stays with him until the government proves him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ghailani's trial is being watched closely as a test of the possibility of trying Guantanamo terrorist suspects in U.S. civilian courts.