Daniel Freedman: War of Military vs. Civil Terrorism Trials
November 19, 2010

Politico
By Daniel Freedman

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If you rely on headlines and partisan politicians for news, you’d be forgiven for believing that the just-concluded civilian trial of former Guantanamo detainee, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was, as Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) described, “a total miscarriage of justice.” It wasn’t – certainly not in the way King and others may mean.

When Ghailani is sentenced in January, he is likely to get anywhere from 20 years to life in prison for his role in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tanzania. While King is infamous for his past support of the IRA, when it comes to Al Qaeda he clearly takes a less sympathetic view toward terrorism – so presumably he’s not upset that Ghailani is to be locked up for at least 20 years.

What King is probably referring to is that Ghailani was acquitted on more than 280 charges and only found guilty on one. That charge, however, was conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property. It was the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation first indicted him, and was the main charge prosecutors intended to convict him on – given the evidence. (Evidence including that he helped buy the truck used for the bombing and stored a detonator.)

Prosecutors often throw as many charges as they can at suspects, to see what works best in court. Al Capone, remember, was convicted for tax evasion.

But it was the acquittals that generated headlines. The Washington Post’s “Ahmed Ghailani, Gitmo Detainee, Acquitted of All but 1 Charge in N.Y.,” was typical…

 

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