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
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.