Court Upholds Ghailani Conviction in Embassy Bombings

The CIA interrogation of an al-Qaeda terrorism suspect before he was transferred to civilian court for trial didn’t violate his constitutional right to a speedy trial, a federal appeals court ruled.

Lawyers for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian sentenced to life in prison for helping carrying out 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, argued that his 2010 conviction for being part of a terrorist conspiracy should be thrown out. The bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

Instead of being transferred to civilian custody for trial after he was captured in Pakistan in July 2004, Ghailani was held in U.S. custody for 57 months, subjected to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the Central Intelligence Agency, which his lawyers called torture, and moved to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was transferred to civilian custody in June 2009.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan today upheld a lower-court ruling against Ghailani, saying the interrogation was “to obtain actionable and time-sensitive intelligence necessary to thwart acts of terror while still bringing those charged with committing crimes of terrorism against Americans to justice in an orderly fashion.”

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government may purposely delay trials for significant periods of time, so long as, on balance, the public and private interests render the delay reasonable,” the judges said in a unanimous decision.

Trial Court

U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, who presided over Ghailani’s trial, ruled earlier there was no evidence that the government had acted in bad faith.

The almost simultaneous bombings were at the embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, in August 1998.

Witnesses testified that Ghailani helped buy the Nissan refrigeration truck used in the blast at the embassy in Tanzania, and that he and a co-defendant bought high-pressure metal tanks and filled them with oxygen and acetylene to magnify the blast impact. He fled with other co-conspirators just before the attack, prosecutors said.

The lower-court case is U.S. v. Ghailani, 98-cr-1023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The appeal is U.S. v. Ghailani, 11-00320, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Patricia Hurtado in federal court in Manhattan at pathurtado@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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