Out Of Guantanamo: African Embassy Bombing Suspect To Be Tried In US Court

In a move that seems to open up a route out of Guantanamo for
prisoners accused of having an active involvement with international
terrorism that does not involve reviving the much-criticized system of
trials by Military Commission, the Justice Department announced today
that Ahmed Khalfan G

In a move that seems to open up a route out of Guantanamo for
prisoners accused of having an active involvement with international
terrorism that does not involve reviving the much-criticized system of
trials by Military Commission, the Justice Department announced today
that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, and one of 14 "high-value
detainees" transferred to Guantanamo from a secret CIA prison in
September 2006, will be put on trial in a federal court in New York,
following a thorough review of his case that was conducted by the
interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force established by Barack Obama on his second day in office.

Ghailani, who is charged with "assist[ing] in the purchase of
the Nissan truck as well as the oxygen and acetylene tanks that were
used in the bombing of the US Embassy in Tanzania," and who is "further
alleged to have participated in loading boxes of TNT, cylinder tanks,
batteries, detonators, fertilizer and sand bags into the back of the
truck in the weeks immediately before the bombing," admitted
at a hearing in Guantanamo in 2007 that he "bought the TNT used in the
bombing, purchased a cell phone used by another person involved in the
attack and was present when a third person bought a truck used in the
attack," but apologized for his involvement, saying that he did not
know that the supplies would be used to attack the embassy.

The decision to charge Ghailani in a federal court effectively
repudiates his last five years of detention, since he was seized in
Pakistan in 2004, as he was first indicted in New York in 1998 for
"conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda to kill
Americans overseas and for his role in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombing of the
US Embassy in Dar es Salam, Tanzania, which killed at least eleven
people and caused injuries to at least 85 people," and, as a result of
superseding indictments, is now accused of 286 different charges,
including participating in an al-Qaeda conspiracy "to murder, bomb, and
maim US civilians anywhere in the world."

The decision does not, however, address some uncomfortable facts about Ghailani's last five years in US custody. As I wrote in an article when he was put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantanamo in March 2008 (before the trials were suspended by Barack Obama, on his first day in office),

Ghailani did not allege, during his military tribunal, that he was tortured (unlike Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, whose torture by waterboarding was admitted by CIA director Michael Hayden), but during my research for my book The Guantanamo Files,
I discovered a piece of information that indicated that, whether under
duress, or by some other method, he had made a false allegation against
one of the prisoners at Guantanamo.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the gathering of evidence used
against the Guantanamo prisoners is the accumulation of allegations
from [their tribunals and review boards, in which] an enormous number
of claims are attributed to "a senior al-Qaeda operative" or "a senior
al-Qaeda lieutenant." With no names given, it has been impossible to
establish the source of these claims, although they are frequently so
at odds with a previously established chronology of the prisoner's
actions - placing them at training camps and in guest houses when they
were not even in Afghanistan, for example - that it's readily apparent
that many, if not most of these allegations were produced under duress,
probably when supposed "high-value detainees" were being shown the
"family album" of prisoners that was used from the earliest days of the
US-run prisons in Afghanistan, in late December 2001.

On one occasion only, I discovered that one of these "al-Qaeda"
sources had been named, and was none other than Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.
As I explained in Chapter 20 of The Guantanamo Files, "The
Yemeni Mohammed al-Hanashi ... admitted to his tribunal in 2004 that he
arrived in Afghanistan eight or nine months before 9/11, and that he
fought with the Taliban. By the time of his review in 2005, however,
new allegations had been added, including the claim that Ahmed Khalfan
Ghailani 'identified him as having been at the al-Farouq camp [the main
training camp for Arabs, associated in the years before 9/11 with Osama
bin Laden] in 1998-99 prior to moving on to the front lines in Kabul.'
In other words, although al-Hanashi admitted traveling to Afghanistan
to serve as a foot soldier for the Taliban, a man who was held in
extremely dubious circumstances in another part of the world was shown
his photo and came up with a story about seeing him two or three years
before his arrival in Afghanistan, which would, henceforth, be regarded
as evidence against him."

What's particularly ironic about Ghailani's case, however, is that
while he was held in secret prisons and, presumably, subjected to all
manner of "enhanced interrogation techniques" to persuade him to make
dubious confessions about other prisoners, four of his alleged
co-conspirators were put through the federal court system in 2001,
after a process of interrogation that did not involve the use of secret
prisons and torture, and, after being convicted in May 2001, were sentenced to life without parole in October 2001, just six weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

In another ironic twist, it is presumed that the African embassy
bombings were actually perpetrated by al-Qaeda as revenge for US
involvement in one of several dozen examples of the pre-9/11 use of
"rendition" under the Clinton administration, after four members of
Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the terrorist group of al-Qaeda' s deputy
leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were seized in Albania and flown to Egypt,
where one of the men reported that he was tortured, and two others were
hanged. On August 5, 1998, al-Zawahiri threatened retaliation against
the US "in a language they will understand," warning that America's
"message has been received and that the response, which we hope they
will read carefully, is being prepared." The bombings took place two
days later.

While I hope that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's trial in a federal court
proceeds smoothly, and that justice will be done - and will be seen to
be done - if he was indeed involved in the dreadful attacks of August
1998, the sad truth remains that the ghost of rendition and torture,
and of a long, dirty covert war between international terrorists and
the CIA, which expanded after 9/11 to affect the whole of the Bush
administration's "War on Terror," has cast a cloud over his case that
will ensure that no possible outcome will represent a shining day for

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.