Several hundred people were summoned to federal court in Manhattan to fill out questionnaires for prospective jurors in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an accused al-Qaeda terrorist charged in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is presiding over the case, described the case today to the potential jurors.
“Mr. Ghailani denies the charges,” Kaplan told the prospective jurors. “He is presumed innocent, and that presumption stays with him until the government proves him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ghailani, the first detainee from Guantanamo Bay to be tried in a U.S. civilian court, is accused of helping deliver bomb components in a truck detonated outside the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. Almost simultaneously, another bomb went off outside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The blasts killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured at least 5,000.
After the bombing, Ghailani fled from Africa, prosecutors said. He “remained an active participant in al-Qaeda,” the U.S. said in court papers. He served as a cook and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and later as a document forger, they said.
Ghailani was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in December 1998 on 286 charges, including conspiring with bin Laden in a plot to kill and maim U.S. citizens in both bombings.
He was captured in July 2004 in Pakistan and was taken to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on Cuba in 2006.
He pleaded not guilty and was transferred to federal court in New York for trial. He faces as long as life in prison if convicted.
Kaplan told prospective jurors that he hopes the jury selected will hear opening arguments by Oct. 4. The panel will be anonymous and partly sequestered, Kaplan said, kept separate from other juries in the building and escorted to and from the courthouse by a U.S. marshal.
“Your privacy can and will be preserved,” Kaplan said.
Potential jurors are from Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Dutchess and Sullivan counties, which comprise the Southern District of New York.
After being captured, Ghailani was questioned by the Central Intelligence Agency and later the Department of Defense, the U.S. said in court papers, much of which are redacted and remain under seal. His lawyers have said Ghailani was held in so-called “black sites” by the U.S. and was subjected to “coercive” tactics, including torture.
The case is U.S. v. Ghailani, 98-cr-1023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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