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Civilian Trial of ex-Guantanamo Prisoner Due to Start in New York
NEW YORK – The first civilian trial for a former detainee of the US prison in Guantanamo Bay was expected to start Wednesday in New York in a key test of President Barack Obama's anti-terrorism policies.
The federal court in Manhattan was expected to begin by completing the jury selection process, followed by opening statements by lawyers for the defense and prosecution.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, is accused of a key role in the killing of 224 people during the bombings against two US embassies in Africa in 1998.
He is charged with procuring the truck and the explosives that were used against the Dar es Salaam embassy -- the other bombing was in Nairobi -- and serving as an aide to Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Ghailani, believed to be in his mid-30s, faces life in prison if convicted.
Arrested in Pakistan in 2004, he is the sole inmate of the notorious Guantanamo facility in Cuba to have been transferred into the US civilian justice system.
Ghailani was also subjected to what the government calls "enhanced interrogation" at Central Intelligence Agency secret prisons, which his lawyers have described as torture.
That makes him something of a guinea pig in a high-level political debate over how to prosecute terrorism suspects in the United States and people taken prisoner by US forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Obama's plans to close Guantanamo and bring five alleged plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks to trial in New York have proved controversial because opponents believe terror suspects should be denied US legal rights.
The judge overseeing Ghailani's trial, Lewis Kaplan, has already rejected defense complaints that their client's rights were violated by his lengthy incarceration and mistreatment.
But he did delay the trial from Monday to Wednesday so that he could rule on whether a key but controversial prosecution witness would be allowed to testify.
Ghailani's lawyers oppose using Hussein Abebe as a witness because the government learned about him during questioning carried out in CIA prisons, which the defense say were coercive interrogations.
Federal attorneys said Abebe would testify that he sold TNT to Ghailani that was later used to bomb the US embassy in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam.