NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge refused on Friday to overturn the conviction of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial, while his lawyers said in a court filing that he was tortured in a U.S. “gulag.”
Defense lawyers had asked for a new trial after a mixed verdict in November when a U.S. jury convicted Ghailani on just one of 285 counts relating to his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
Ghailani, a 36-year-old Tanzanian being detained in New York City, was found guilty of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property with deadly explosives.
He is due to be sentenced on Tuesday and faces 20 years to life in prison.
His five-week trial was seen as a test of President Barack Obama’s approach to handling the 173 terrorism suspects now held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Obama vowed during his 2008 presidential campaign to close the Guantanamo prison, a pledge that has run into resistance from critics who argue that it is needed in the battle against Islamist extremists.
The judge in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, on Friday refused to overturn Ghailani’s conviction or grant him a new trial, suggesting the verdict may have been “a bargain in the end.” Eleven jurors may have favored conviction against one for acquittal, Kaplan supposed, and he said the jury may have compromised “so everyone could go home.”
CLAIM OF REPEATED TORTURE
“The evidence of Ghailani’s culpable mental state and intent was plentiful,” Kaplan wrote in an opinion unsealed on Friday, rejecting defense requests that Ghailani be cleared of all charges or retried on the one conspiracy charge.
Separately, in a filing ahead of the sentencing hearing, Ghailani’s lawyers issued a plea asking not to hand a life sentence to Ghailani because, they said, he was repeatedly tortured while in U.S. custody and shared valuable intelligence with interrogators.
Ghailani “was tortured at the hands of the United States Government, while in the custody of the United States Government, and detained in a gulag maintained by the United States Government, known as a “Black Sites,” the defense said.
“Gulag” referred to the Soviet Union’s system of forced labor camps in which millions were imprisoned and suffered under harsh conditions.
Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and held at undisclosed locations until his 2006 transfer to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His case was “particularly egregious,” the defense said, because “our country does not do these things. We are better than that.”
The defense did not detail the torture they contend that Ghailani endured, but filed a separate letter under seal where they discuss Ghailani’s treatment, the particulars of which are classified.
Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence, saying Ghailani has expressed no remorse and did nothing to stop the impending attacks.
His lawyers argued he had merely run errands for men he realized were al Qaeda operatives only after the attacks.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on Kaplan’s ruling. Lead defense attorney Peter Quijano also declined to comment.
Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Dan Trotta and Vicki Allen
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