News / USA

First Guantanamo Detainee Terror Trial Opens in New York

In this courtroom sketch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin, foreground, gives his opening statement to the jury in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, left, as lead defense attorney Steve Zissou, third from left, and Judge Lewin Kaplan, right, look
In this courtroom sketch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin, foreground, gives his opening statement to the jury in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, left, as lead defense attorney Steve Zissou, third from left, and Judge Lewin Kaplan, right, look

The trial of accused terrorist Ahmed Ghailani began in New York City on Tuesday. Ghailani is accused of taking part in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tanzania.

The proceedings began with a statement from U.S. Assistant Attorney Nicholas Lewin, who said the government will establish that the defendant was involved in the acquisition of a refrigerator truck and explosives that were used in the suicide bombing of the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam. 

Lewin said a vehicle identification number from that vehicle led to Ghailani, adding that detonators and traces of explosives were found in his apartment.  The prosecutor also noted that 20 oxygen and acetylene tanks allegedly were purchased by Ghailani to increase the destructive force of the blast.

The government says it will prove that Ghailani fled to Pakistan with al-Qaida co-conspirators under an assumed name and fake passport the day before the attack.

One of Ghailani's attorneys, Steve Zissou, asked the jury not to be seduced by what he referred to as the prosecution's frightening characterization of the crime.  Zissou indicated that the defense will show that Ghailani was duped by al-Qaida operatives who used him to run errands, without telling him about their criminal intentions.

Zissou said his client was young at the time of the bombing.  He says Ghailani stayed with the al-Qaida operatives because they were older and that he admired them as successful businessmen.

Earlier, Ghailani's attorneys filed a motion for a mistrial, arguing that a questionnaire used for jury selection was based on assurances by the prosecution it that al-Qaida would not figure as prominently in the trial as it did in the government's opening statement.  Presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected the motion.

The trial had been delayed for a week after Kaplan excluded a witness who prosecutors say admitted to selling explosives to Ghailani.  The judge said the witness was identified following enhanced interrogation of the defendant by the CIA, thus extending U.S. Constitutional protection against self-incrimination to a foreign terror suspect. 

The government's first witness was John Lange, the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Tanzania.  Lange was questioned about the physical layout of the embassy and aftermath of the attack.

The defense's cross-examination ended the day's proceedings, when Lange was asked whether he knew the meaning of the phrase Romeo Two.  Lange said he did not.  No explanation was provided.  

Judge Kaplan indicated that the trial might last several weeks or months, perhaps into next year.

Ahmed Ghailani is the first suspect held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be tried in an American civilian court.  He is charged with 224 counts of murder as well as terrorism and conspiracy with al-Qaida to kill Americans around the world.

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