Guantanamo no closer to closure after conviction
Published 19/11/2010 | 05:00
The first court conviction of a Guantanamo Bay detainee has done little to bring US President Barack Obama's declared ambition of closing down the notorious island prison.
Jurors in New York city on yesterday convicted Ahmed Ghailani of conspiracy to blow up government buildings in the al-Qa'ida attacks on two US embassies in 1998. But they acquitted him on more than 280 other charges. He is the only person transferred from Guantanamo Bay for trial since the US began filling the military prison in Cuba eight years ago.
In some ways, the conviction was a vindication for an administration that believes the judicial system established by the constitution has proved itself capable of handling terrorism cases. Predictions of new terrorist attacks and huge police expenses surrounding the trial never materialised. Ghailani now faces 20 years to life in prison, longer than three of the four sentences handed down by military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.
Despite the acquittals, which included murder counts for each of the 224 people killed in the bombings, the Justice Department said it was pleased Ghailani faced up to life in prison and said it would seek that sentence.
But senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, conceded that the one-count conviction, combined with big electoral wins for Republicans this month, will make it harder to close the prison.
The administration had hoped for an overwhelming conviction to help ease congressional opposition to Mr Obama's long-stymied plan for moving the detainees to US soil. The administration must notify Congress before any transfer, and Republicans have said they would block such efforts.
The Ghailani case also did little to resolve the question of what will happen to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other masterminds of the September 11 terrorists attacks.
The Justice Department had planned to prosecute those cases in civilian courts, but the administration reversed course amid political opposition. Some prosecutors felt the White House was letting political considerations influence the department.