Ahmed Ghailani Guilty of Conspiracy, But Not Murder

The jury in Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani’s trial for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings has found him guilty of conspiracy, but not the charges of terrorism he was accused of. With the one count, however, he may still face a life sentence.

It appears likely that just one juror voted against the other charges against Ghailani. Earlier in the week, a juror wrote the judge that she was being attacked by other jurors, asking to be dismissed because her views on the charges would not change. Then, earlier today, the jurors asked the judge to explain the conspiracy charge that Ghailani was ultimately convicted of. So it appears that juror did ultimately vote for the conspiracy charge.

There will be a lot of incredulity about the fact that Ghailani was not found guilty of the other charges. In particular, people will suggest that had Hussein Abebe been permitted to testify that he had sold the explosive to Ghailani used in the attack, then he would have been found guilty on all charges.

But aside from second-guessing the trial result, there’s a problem with that: Judge Lewis Kaplan strongly suggested that he refused to let Abebe testify not just because prosecutors wouldn’t have found him if it weren’t for the torture-induced confession of Ghailani, but also because Abebe himself was coerced to give the testimony he did. Which means we couldn’t know whether his testimony had been shaded to reflect what those coercing him to testify wanted him to say.

All of which debate of course distracts from the larger point: yet another terrorist–a big one, if you believe the government–has been convicted in a civilian trial.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. MadDog says:

    I should’ve known you’d quickly knock out a post. *g*

    So to reprise a comment:

    CBS’s Bob Orr reported during the Katie Couric’s evening broadcast that Ghailani conviction could have up 20 year to life sentence though he insisted that if Ghailani got the minimum 20, it would still be likely that the US would still permanently detain him after completion of a 20 year sentence.

    This seems to confirm the US government has a generations-long view of the endless GWOT.

  2. MadDog says:

    …There will be a lot of incredulity about the fact that Ghailani was not found guilty of the other charges…

    I don’t doubt that the Lindsey Graham “Everbody gets tried in Military Commissions” camp will now be howling even louder.

    In fact, I would bet AG Holder just had his KSM trial decision handed to him in spades.

    As in: “No more civilian trials. Period!”

  3. MadDog says:

    In making lemonade out of lemons, the totality of the DOJ’s statement on the Ghailani trial:

    “We respect the jury’s verdict and are pleased that Ahmed Ghailani now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison and a potential life sentence for his role in the embassy bombings.”

      • MadDog says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong here, but in Federal court, it is the Judge who decides on the sentence, and not the Jury.

        I thought I heard on the BBC America news tonight that the analyst/reporter on the Ghailani trial “expected” that Ghailani would get a life sentence.

        Your thoughts?

        • bmaz says:

          That is correct. They do so within the constructs of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. There are going to be uward departures for Ghailani, so may be well more than 20 years. I still maintain he should get credit for pre-verdict detention since he was captured though.

  4. arcadesproject says:

    Golly, I don’t know what Ahmed Ghailani looks like to you. Or to the US government. But to me, he looks like a boy. How can so many people get so many undies into so many bundles over a boy?

  5. skdadl says:

    So ordinary citizens turn out not to be as bloodthirsty as our elites would like. That’s what it means when they say no more civilian trials. Civilians turn out to be just too … civilized.

  6. tjbs says:

    Ah the torture tar baby .

    And just a booster to arrest, prosecute, convict and lock up for life with NO possibility of parole, The wonderlust TortureMurderTreason son of a bitch george, dog shit, bush.

    Have a great day, otherwise.

  7. MadDog says:

    As I said over at Spencer’s post on Lindsey Graham’s response to the Ghailani verdict:

    Shorter Lindsey Graham: “Civilian trials bad. Military Commissions good!”

  8. MadDog says:

    Totally off the wall OT – via the AP:

    Air Force warns troops about Facebook feature

    The Air Force is warning its troops to be careful when using Facebook and other popular networking sites because some new features could show the enemy exactly where U.S. forces are located in war zones…

    …The Army, which provides the bulk of the battlefield forces, said it intends to circulate a similar warning about location services to key personnel next week.

    The applications, which are offered by a variety of services including Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt, can identify a person’s location, even pinpoint it on a map.

    A key concern is that enemy forces could use such features to track troops in the war zone who have a Blackberry or other smart phone and use those networking services…

    I knew it. I just knew it!

    Facebook is a terrorist application and Facebook users are members of a global terrorist conspiracy.

    And that buttresses my cred as a Good American because I refuse to use things like Facebook.

    So there!

  9. Jeff Kaye says:

    From the Center for Constitutional Rights statement on the Ghailani verdict. “CCR filed an amicus brief in support of Ghailani’s motion to dismiss his indictment because he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial while in secret CIA detention.”

    CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11. Both the military commission system and federal criminal trials have serious flaws. However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.

  10. Jeff Kaye says:

    Also, O/T

    From Courthouse News today:

    A federal magistrate judge in San Francisco ordered the CIA to produce specific records and testimony about the human experiments the government allegedly conducted on thousands of soldiers from 1950 through 1975.
    Three veterans groups and six individual veterans sued the CIA and other government agencies, claiming they used about 7,800 soldiers as human guinea pigs to research biological, chemical and psychological weapons.
    The experiments, many of which took place at Edgewood Arsenal and Fort Detrick in Maryland, allegedly exposed test subjects to chemicals, drugs and electronic implants. Though the soldiers volunteered, they never gave informed consent, because the government didn’t fully disclose the risks, the veterans claimed. They were also required to sign an oath of secrecy, according to the complaint.

  11. MadDog says:

    From the WaPo’s Peter Finn, what I consider the most salient and telling part of the article:

    …Republican lawmakers immediately said the verdict should force the Obama administration to abandon civilian trials for Guantanamo detainees.

    “I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court,” said Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. “This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts.”

    But human rights activists who have long called for the use of federal trials said the verdict was a vindication of their approach.

    “Conspiracy to blow up an embassy is a serious conviction,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch. “I hope the conclusion people draw from this is that this is the way to get swift and sure justice.”

    He added: “The original sin here is torture. It would have haunted a military trial, too, with likely the same result. The only difference is that in this courtroom, Ghailani was convicted with legitimacy and finality.”

    But administration officials appear not to be drawing that conclusion. Although there is little support in the Obama administration for the widespread and exclusive use of military commissions to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, there is growing recognition that the degree of political opposition to holding federal trials is insuperable.

    Senior administration officials said in recent interviews that Mohammed and other accused 9/11 conspirators will probably remain in military detention without trial for the foreseeable future.

    (My Bold)

  12. Mason says:

    Given that the twenty to life is a maximum sentence, and there is no mandatory minimum, the acquittals on all of the substantive counts should limit his presumptive sentencing range to something less than he already has served and the judge couldn’t declare a manifest injustice and increase the sentence based on any alleged misconduct that the jury considered and acquitted. That may not leave a basis for an upward departure.

    I’d have to review the Indictment to be sure but Ghailani may receive a sentence that is less than he already served. I agree with bmaz — Ghailani should get credit for time served.

    Of course, since they’re going to hold him for the rest of his natural life because the government has no intention of ever ending the GWOT, the sentencing calculation and eventual sentence is sort of irrelevant.

    Nevertheless, Obama, Holder, DOJ, and the military will be declared scumbags, which they are, all over the world for refusing to accept the verdicts, which will be interpreted as a major rejection of the government’s policies. They will lose any remaining vestige of respect in the world, a result they richly deserve.

  13. papau says:

    “All of which debate of course distracts from the larger point: yet another terrorist–a big one, if you believe the government–has been convicted in a civilian trial.”

    The GOP – and Obama justice dept – are now saying that because of the lack of convictions, his will be the last of the terrorist trials in civilian courts.

    Yep the above is mow being sold to us via the media. Who’d have thought the left wing media would carry water for a right wing message – again. s

  14. Mason says:

    Official US policy under Obama:

    We torture people to get confessions and we’re not going to let all that hard work go to waste by running the risk that a jury will acquit a defendant. Therefore, no more trials. Period.

  15. liberaldem says:

    I find the media spin on this fascinating. The man was convicted on one count, and is going to serve at least 20 years in prison, and very likely longer than that, yet all the fawning corporate media wants to talk about are the counts on which Ghailani was acquitted…

  16. timbo says:

    Um, why doesn’t the judge demand an investigation into the coercive techniques used to get these confessions?