NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first detainee transferred to New York from a U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to face criminal charges in a civilian court will not be represented by military lawyers, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian who is charged with conspiring in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, was transferred in June from Guantanamo Bay to be tried in Manhattan federal court.
Ghailani, an accused member of al Qaeda, wanted to be represented by the military lawyers who had been handling his case at Guantanamo Bay, Colonel Jeffrey Colwell and Major Richard Reiter. Colwell and Reiter had also sought to remain on the case.
But U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that a decision by the Defense Department to reassign the military lawyers to other duties “does not violate Ghailani’s rights.”
Ghailani’s court-appointed lawyers had argued dropping the military lawyers from the defense team would violate his rights to effective assistance of counsel.
“He is entitled to, and is receiving, representation of appointed counsel at public expense,” said Kaplan. “He is not entitled to choose particular government-paid counsel — military or civilian.”
Ghailani has pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda to kill Americans, and separate charges of murder for the 224 people killed in the African bombings.
Ghailani’s case is a test for President Barack Obama’s plans to close the controversial Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects. Republicans have criticized the transfer of suspects to the United States as a security risk.
He was taken into custody in Pakistan in July 2004 and then interrogated outside the United States as part of the Bush administration’s secret “extraordinary rendition” program in which terrorism suspects were captured in one country and interrogated in another.
Ghailani was transferred to the U.S. naval base in Cuba in 2006. He is due to go on trial in September next year.
He will be tried in the same courthouse where the September 11 suspects are due to appear. The court has held other top terrorism cases in the past few decades, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 for conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham