Obama administration to continue terrorism trials in civilian court despite criticism

Written by: Nairita Das
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Washington, Nov 19 (ANI): The Obama administration remains committed to trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts, even though a federal jury acquitted a Tanzanian of all but one charge in the 1998 US embassy bombings, senior Justice Department officials said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, alleged Al Qaeda accomplice Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani- the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner to be tried in civilian court- was convicted of one count of conspiracy to damage or destroy US property, but cleared of 284 counts of murder and attempted murder, The Los Angeles Times reported.

As Republican lawmakers used the New York verdict to attack the concept of civilian trials, Justice Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said, "We're going to continue to review the cases on their merits and decide which forum is the most appropriate," adding that Justice and Defense department officials use a detailed protocol to determine who will be tried and where.

Miller informed that announcements were pending on where to try nearly four dozen other terror suspects- in US courts or before military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but declined to say who might be tried next in civilian court. "Every day we're continuing to work on it," he maintained.

He also rejected criticism from those who saw the Ghailani verdict as proof that all terror suspects should be tried in military commissions, saying, "The criminal justice system produced a verdict that's going to lead to his serving from 20 years to life, and we are going to ask for life."

But the Conservatives castigated the administration for its position.

"Wrong again on terror trials," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, adding that the verdict "is all the proof we need that the administration's approach to prosecuting terrorists has been deeply misguided and indeed potentially harmful as a matter of national security."

"This trial came dangerously close to failure despite Atty. Gen. [Eric J.] Holder's assurance that 'failure is not an option,' " said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. "I hope that the administration heard this wake-up call and will return to the policy of trying these kinds of terrorists in military commissions."

Democrats defended the Obama administration, with the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) saying, "This trial shows our legal system works."

However, liberal critics are of the view that the fault lies with government-approved torture of suspects- thus making some evidence inadmissible- not with the federal courts, the paper said.

"If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani's acquittal on [all but one of the] counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him," the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York said in a statement.

Ghailani, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and questioned secretly by the CIA before being transferred to Guantanamo, was not the main plotter in the 1998 bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, which took 224 lives, including 12 Americans. Four others were convicted in 2001.

Prosecutors believe that he played a key role in helping carry out the smaller of the two bombings, which killed 11 people in Tanzania. But their case was weakened when the judge excluded a prime witness who said that he sold TNT explosive to Ghailani. The judge reasoned that the testimony would be tainted because the government learned of his name only through the harsh and secret questioning. (ANI)

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