Watch Cheney and Co. Respond to the Ghailani Sentence

In recent months we heard a lot of pundits wax hysterical about the chaos and mayhem the federal court trial of a former Guantanamo detainee would bring to New York.

The folks at Keep America Safe – Liz Cheney, Bill Kristol, and Debra Burlingame – called the trial “dangerous,” “ reckless,” and “embarrassing”. 

But in New York the trial proceeded with no disruptions. No street closures. No increased police presence. And, this week, a federal judge sentenced Ahmed Ghailani to life in jail with no chance of parole.

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Pundits Punch and Congress Cowers: Bill Bans all Gitmo Prisoner Transfers for Trial

After Ahmed Ghailani was found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to bomb two U.S. embassies in November, a conviction that could land him life in prison (his sentencing hearing is scheduled for January), the usual slate of right-wing pundits took to the airwaves, eager to denounce President Obama for trying the suspected terrorist at all.

Liz Cheney declared that the guilty verdict "signals weakness in a time of war."

John Yoo said prosecutors were "lucky to even get one conviction," adding that "It is really hard to see what the upside is to having civilian trials."

And Laura Ingraham, sitting in for Bill O'Reilly on Fox, called trying terror suspects in federal court "insane," "wrong" and "potentially dangerous."

There's more...

Pundits Punch and Congress Cowers: Bill Bans all Gitmo Prisoner Transfers for Trial

After Ahmed Ghailani was found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to bomb two U.S. embassies in November, a conviction that could land him life in prison (his sentencing hearing is scheduled for January), the usual slate of right-wing pundits took to the airwaves, eager to denounce President Obama for trying the suspected terrorist at all.

Liz Cheney declared that the guilty verdict "signals weakness in a time of war."

John Yoo said prosecutors were "lucky to even get one conviction," adding that "It is really hard to see what the upside is to having civilian trials."

And Laura Ingraham, sitting in for Bill O'Reilly on Fox, called trying terror suspects in federal court "insane," "wrong" and "potentially dangerous."

There's more...

Critics of Ghailani Trial Have Little Faith in U.S. Law

On Wednesday, to the surprise of some spectators in the courtroom, a U.S. federal judge did the right thing: he followed the law.

Judge Lewis Kaplan had a clear choice before him: he could exclude the testimony of a government witness discovered via abusive CIA interrogation of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, or he could allow the government to introduce that testimony, in blatant violation of U.S. law. Ghailani, transferred from Guantanamo Bay to New York last year, is now on trial for allegedly assisting in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

In a U.S. federal court, testimony derived from a coercive interrogation is not admissible. A similar rule applies in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Although judges there have more leeway, most military judges are equally principled and take the ban seriously. Torture-derived evidence is inadmissible for two reasons: to prevent U.S. authorities from engaging in torture, and because such evidence is inherently unreliable. International treaties similarly ban its use.

The government knew, of course, that this would be a problem, and it surely has plenty of other evidence against Ghailani or it wouldn't have transferred him to civilian court in the first place. After Judge Kaplan's ruling, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his continued confidence in the case. Notably, four of his alleged co-conspirators in the bombings were tried and sentenced to life in prison back in 2001 - without the use of this particular government witness. Evidence introduced in that trial pointed to Ghailani as well.

Still, since Wednesday, commentators such as Liz Cheney and Jack Goldsmith have seized on Judge Kaplan's ruling to lament not the fact that Ghailani was thrown in a CIA black site for two years and likely tortured (the government refuses to address Ghailani's treatment in this trial but concedes he was "coerced"), but the fact that the judge has excluded the evidence that his interrogators squeezed out of him - or to claim the administration should never have given Ghailani a trial at all.

"If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration's policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today," announced Cheney after the ruling. Goldsmith, the Harvard Professor and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Under President Bush, now writing on the new Lawfare blog, wonders "why the government is bothering to try Ghailani." Why not simply imprison him indefinitely?

Coming from Goldsmith, this is particularly disappointing. When he was at OLC, he had the courage to criticize his colleagues John Yoo and Jay Bybee for their twisted legal analysis that allowed them to institutionalize torture as U.S. policy. Now, rather than recalling that error as the source of the problem in Ghailani's trial today, he's criticizing the Obama administration for applying the rule of law at all.

Technically, Goldsmith may be right: the administration could just declare Ghailani an al Qaeda member and ongoing threat and hold him in military detention forever. That's the unfortunate consequence of the "war against al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces," which has no logical end. But as a matter of principle and policy, imprisoning people indefinitely without trial would be a disgrace, along the lines of what Goldsmith's colleagues at OLC sanctioned.

If there's anything the United States stands for -- or used to stand for -- it's that we don't throw people in prison without proof they've done something wrong.

Principle aside, it's just bad strategy. As General Petraeus has acknowledged, winning the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban is as much about winning over the local populations where they live as it is about U.S. military prowess. Throwing Muslims in prison for decades without charge or trial is hardly a good strategy. If, as national security experts tell us, al Qaeda's strategy is to present the U.S. war against terror as a war against Islam, indefinite detention of suspected Islamic insurgents without trial hands al Qaeda its most effective propaganda campaign on a silver platter.

Cheney and Goldsmith may be right that excluding a witness derived by torture will make the government's case against Ghailani more difficult. But in the end, a fair trial for a suspected terrorist in a respected federal court will do far more to defeat al Qaeda and its associates -- and to bolster the image of the United States in the world -- than will foregoing justice altogether.

 

 

Ghailani Trial Showcases NYC is Safe for Terrorist Trials

Most people don't even realize it, but an alleged al Qaeda terrorist - deemed among the most dangerous terrorists in US custody by US counterterrorism officials - has been quietly appearing in a U.S. federal court in downtown Manhattan for pretrial hearings for weeks now.  His trial is scheduled to start there next week.  And as the Wall Street Journal notes today, the NYPD - who are the national experts on counterterrorism security - don't see any need for extra funds to buttress their normal security procedures.

That's a far cry from the $200 million the police department said last year it would need to secure the trial of some other alleged al Qaeda operatives:  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators in the 9/11 attack.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is being tried for his role in an earlier al Qaeda terrorist attack on U.S. interests: the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. He was considered so important to al Qaeda that after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was subjected to so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" in CIA "black sites" while interrogators pumped him for information. He was only transferred from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to a New York prison for civilian trial last year.

Critics of the Obama administration's decision to use civilian trials for alleged terrorists claim, among other things, that trial and imprisonment in the United States pose a major security threat. But according to Devlin Barrett and Sean Gardiner in today's Journal:

The New York Police Department plans some behind-the-scenes security adjustments for Mr. Ghailani's trial, but there will be no street closures or extra officers assigned to security outside the courthouse.

For anyone who actually lives in New York and knows what the downtown courthouse area is like, that makes perfect sense. Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the NYPD has stepped up its patrols and security in the area. There are now concrete barriers around all federal buildings that make it impossible for someone to drive a bomb up anywhere near them. Security entering the courthouse has always been tight, which makes sense, given that the Manhattan courthouse has long been the primary location for terrorist trials.

The problem with the plan to try KSM and his alleged associated there wasn't that New York City lacked sufficient security; it was that political opponents of the Obama Administration turned the trial into a political tool they could use to undermine the administration. And once opponents like Liz Cheney whipped some locals up into a frenzy about the need to close streets and add security, downtown businesses got scared about how that all might affect their bottom line.

The truth is, as the Ghailani trial demonstrates, that the NYPD and federal prison guards are fully capable of securing the massive stone courthouse and adjacent high-security prison that's long housed suspected terrorists safely.  We neither need to shut down the city nor spend another $200 million to accomplish that.

 

 

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