|The US District Court decision rejected defense arguments that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was denied a speedy trial.|
Judge permits US trial of 1st Guantanamo detainee
Man accused in bombings at 2 embassies
NEW YORK — The first Guantanamo Bay detainee set to be prosecuted in a civilian court was cleared for trial yesterday by a judge who said lengthy interrogation and detention were not grounds for dismissal because they served compelling national security interests.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was interrogated for two years in a secret CIA site for important intelligence information, US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote in a decision that rejected defense requests to toss out the indictment on the grounds that Ghailani was denied a speedy trial.
“No one denies that the agency’s purpose was to protect the United States from attack,’’ Kaplan wrote, noting that the government was not proposing to use any evidence — with one possible exception — gained from Ghailani’s interrogation.
Ghailani is charged in the August 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. His trial is set for Sept. 27.
The decision was made as Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that the administration is working through issues to decide where a trial can be held for self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo.
The ruling was not surprising — federal judges regularly have sided with prosecutors in terrorism cases — but it could indicate that lengthy detentions and interrogations do not stand in the way of the Obama administration’s plan to bring enemy combatants to civilian courts for trial.
Kaplan was critical of the government at one point in his ruling, saying it could have presented Ghailani for trial in Manhattan after he was brought to Guantanamo in September 2006.
Then he reminded the government that it was not necessary to detain a defendant awaiting a criminal trial in the city where the trial will take place, saying it is “usually a matter of convenience and economy.’’.
Matthew Waxman, a former Bush administration official in the State Department and Pentagon, said he expected similar contentions to be raised by other Guantanamo defendants who are moved into civilian courts.
“If this ruling is an indication of how courts will view those claims, however, it suggests they are willing to give the government latitude,’’ said Waxman, now a professor at Columbia Law School. “That latitude may be especially important as the government considers its options for . . . the 9/11 conspirators and its options for closing Guantanamo.’’
Kaplan said Ghailani’s right to a speedy trial also was not violated by the nearly three years he spent at Guantanamo Bay before he was brought to the United States last year.
Kaplan said his status as an enemy combatant always has made it uncertain whether he ever will be freed, and none of the delay was attributable to a quest for tactical advantage.
The judge said civil claims or even criminal charges could be brought if Ghailani was subjected to illegal methods of questioning during the interrogation that followed his July 2004 arrest.
“But this is not the time or the place to pass judgment on whether those techniques, in and of themselves, were appropriate or legal. . . . Its objective was to gather intelligence, not evidence for use in this criminal case,’’ Kaplan said.
Ghailani’s lawyers have said he was subjected to “enhanced interrogation’’ for 14 hours over five days.
Kaplan said a prisoner’s right to a speedy trial might be violated if his prosecution were delayed for an extended period while he faced “appalling or unlawful methods of interrogation even for important national security reasons.’’ But, he added, “That is not this case.’’
A lawyer for Ghailani declined to comment.
The decision was made on the same day that a three-judge federal appeals panel in Washington reversed a judge’s ruling that Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed Al-Adahi should be released.
Pakistani authorities captured Adahi in 2001. In 2004 at Guantanamo Bay, a tribunal determined that the evidence showed he was part of Al Qaeda.
The appeals court agreed with the tribunal’s conclusion, noting he had twice met with Osama bin Laden and had attended Al Qaeda’s Al Farouq training camp, where many of the Sept. 11 terrorists trained.