By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 21, 2009 3:03 PM
The Justice Department has approved transfer of the first Guantanamo prison inmate to the United States for criminal trial in a federal court. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a 34-year-old Tanzanian charged with aiding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, is to be tried in the Southern District of New York, where he was first indicted more than a decade ago.
In the interim, Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and held in a secret CIA prison overseas for two years before being transferred to Guantanamo, one of about a dozen "high value detainees," with alleged al-Qaeda ties, sent there when the Bush administration emptied the intelligence agency's "black site" prisons.
"By prosecuting Ahmed Ghailani in federal court," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement today, "we will ensure that he finally answers for his alleged role in bombing of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya." More than 200 people, including 12 Americans, were killed in the Aug. 7, 1998, dual bombings.
Ghailani was originally charged with supplying the truck used to bomb the embassy in Dar es Salaam. A superceding indictment in 2001--when he was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List--charges him with 286 separate counts, including the Tanzanian and Kenya bombings and participation in an al-Qaeda conspiracy to murder, bomb and main U.S. civilians anywhere in the world.
The decision to transfer Ghailani's case was made by the high-level task force President Obama named to review each of the 242 detainees at Guantanamo when he took office. In a speech this morning, Obama said the task force has thus far cleared 50 detainees for transfer to other countries for "detention and rehabilitation." One prisoner was transferred to France this month.
Those "transferable" detainees are one of five categories Obama delineated in his speech. The other four include 21 prisoners whose release has already been ordered by U.S. courts. The administration has yet to find countries willing to take them, and a number of U.S. allies are waiting to see if the United States will accept any itself. Among the "releaseables" are 17 Chinese Uighurs, some of whom Holder has indicated could be settled here, although officials in a number of states have said they would not accept them or any others.
Two other categories include those to be tried by revamped Bush-era military commissions, which Obama had suspended but last week said would be reconvened, and what he described today as the "toughest" cases of dangerous detainees who cannot be either tried or released, in large part because evidence against them is tainted by harsh interrogation methods.
The fifth category includes those, such as Ghailani, whose cases are determined to be triable in U.S. criminal courts. Justice officials said that all of the evidence to be used against him was obtained by civilian prosecutors and that the indictment does not involve any information gathered during CIA or military interrogations after his capture.
In March, the military charged Ghailani under the Military Commissions Act, but those charges will now be replaced by the federal indictment. Ghailani's lawyer has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on grounds he was not granted a speedy trial.