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Closing arguments begin in detainee trial

Associated Press / November 9, 2010

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NEW YORK — The first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial is a mass murderer who played a key role in the terrorist bombings of two US embassies in Africa in 1998, a prosecutor said yesterday in closing arguments.

Defense assertions that Ahmed Ghailani was an unwitting dupe in the plot “flies in the face of the evidence and it flies in the face of common sense,’’ Assistant US Attorney Harry Chernoff told jurors in federal court in Manhattan.

Prosecutors allege Ghailani helped an Al Qaeda cell buy a truck and components for explosives used in a suicide bombing in his native Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. The attack in Dar es Salaam and a nearly simultaneous bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

“Sitting among us is a mass murderer — Ahmed Ghailani,’’ Chernoff said.

He added: “Ahmed Ghailani has the blood of hundreds on his hands.’’

The day before the attack, prosecutors say, Ghailani and other plotters fled to Pakistan. Authorities say that while he was on the run, he spent time in Afghanistan as a cook and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and later as a document forger for Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

He was captured in 2004 and held by the CIA at a secret overseas camp before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.

Closing arguments will continue today, when the jury is to hear from the defense.

After the decision to put the 36-year-old detainee on trial in New York, a judge dealt the government a setback by barring testimony from a key witness identified by the CIA. Harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA made the evidence unconstitutional, the judge ruled.

Despite the decision, the government has been given broad latitude to reference Al Qaeda and bin Laden.

The jury heard a former Al Qaeda member who has cooperated with the government describe how bin Laden took the group in a more extreme direction with a 1998 fatwa against Americans.

Bin Laden accused the United States of killing innocent women and children in the Middle East and decided “we should do the same,’’ L’Houssaine Kherchtou said on the witness stand.

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