U.S. seeks life in prison for ex-Guantanamo detainee

NEW YORK Fri Jan 7, 2011 9:18pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Friday urged a judge to sentence the first Guantanamo detainee to have faced a U.S. civilian trial to life in prison, and said the Tanzanian terrorism suspect had asked for leniency because he was tortured.

A U.S. jury found Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, not guilty of all but one charge in November following a five-week trial in New York. He had been accused of conspiring in the 1998 al Qaeda bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

He is due to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan on January 25, and faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.

Immediately before the bombings, Ghailani fled to Pakistan where he was later captured in July 2004 and handed over to the CIA as a so-called enemy combatant. He was detained by the CIA at a secret location for more than two years. During that time, his defense attorneys said, he was repeatedly tortured.

Ghailani was moved to Guantanamo Bay in late 2006 and transferred to New York in June 2009 to stand trial.

In the court papers filed on Friday, prosecutors said Ghailani had sent a letter to U.S. probation authorities asking them to recommend a lesser sentence because he was "mistreated" while in U.S. custody. He also asked for leniency because he provided information to U.S. investigators, court papers said.

But the probation office and prosecutors said the severity of the crime should outweigh any other factors, given that Ghailani "was a central participant in an al Qaeda terror cell that killed hundreds of people."

Ghailani was convicted of one count of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property with explosives, and cleared of 284 other conspiracy and murder charges.

In their verdict, the jury found Ghailani's actions "directly or proximately caused death to a person other than a co-conspirator," a subset of the one charge.

Ghailani's trial was watched closely as a test of U.S. President Barack Obama's approach to handling the 173 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

The defense on Friday also filed papers concerning Ghailani's sentencing, but they were kept under seal presumably because they relate to Ghailani's treatment, details of which are classified.

(Reporting by Basil Katz; editing by Todd Eastham)

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