NEW YORK – A judge refused Friday to toss out the conviction of the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, saying the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude his "knowing and willing participation" in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan rejected as "deeply flawed" the arguments by defense lawyers, who said the verdict against Ahmed Ghailani should be tossed because it was inconsistent for the jury to convict him on a single count involving the attacks and exonerate him on 284 other counts. The twin bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
"The evidence of Ghailani's culpable mental state and intent was plentiful," the judge wrote. "Thus, if there was any injustice in the jury's verdict, the victims were the United States and those killed, injured and otherwise devastated by these barbaric acts of terror, not Ghailani."
He said Ghailani's role in purchasing one of the bomb-laden trucks, in buying gas cylinders used in the bomb, in storing and concealing detonators and in sheltering an al-Qaida fugitive prior to the attacks "all support an inference of knowing and willing participation in the conspiracy."
The judge said he believed there was adequate evidence to convict Ghailani on 227 counts, including the charge on which he was convicted, two charges of bombing the embassies and 224 separate murder counts.
Ghailani was convicted of conspiring to destroy government buildings, a charge that the judge said only required the jury to find that the conspiracy existed and Ghailani joined it knowing of its unlawful intent. He faces up to life in prison at a sentencing scheduled for Tuesday.
Kaplan's written decision came a day after he was dismissive of oral arguments made by defense lawyer Michael Bachrach seeking to reverse the conviction. Bachrach declined to comment Friday.
At trial, the defense portrayed their client as an innocent young man who carried out specific acts such as buying the gas tanks that enhanced the explosive power of one of the bombs without any knowledge that an attack was to occur.
Kaplan noted that the defense in its closing arguments at trial used the word "dupe" more than 20 times.
Ghailani was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and was interrogated at a CIA-run camp overseas where rough methods were used. Evidence about his treatment there was kept secret in the court file, though his lawyers divulged during a pretrial hearing that he was subjected to enhanced interrogation methods for 14 hours over five days.
Ghailani was moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006 and was transferred to New York for trial in 2009.
Ghailani's trial, at a lower Manhattan courthouse, had been viewed as a test for President Barack Obama's aim of putting other terror detainees — including self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo — on trial on U.S. soil.
Obama still says he wants to prosecute terrorists in both military commissions and criminal courts, but Congress has tied his hands at least in the short term. Lawmakers have prohibited the Pentagon from transferring detainees to the U.S., even to stand trial.
At Ghailani's trial, prosecutors chose not to use any statements he made to authorities after his arrest because they said he was not advised of his rights beforehand and was not given access to an attorney.
Kaplan ruled just before trial that prosecutors could not call as a witness the man who sold Ghailani explosives because the government had learned about him as a result of Ghailani's interrogation.
In statements to the FBI, Ghailani was quoted as saying that he realized a week before the bombings that an embassy was going to be attacked.
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