Debacle: Terrorist Ahmed Ghailani Acquitted on 284 of 285 Counts in Civilian Court

Posted: Nov 18, 2010 8:02 AM
A deeply troubling, if predictable, outcome to the Obama administration's critical first test case of its reckless civilian-trials-for-terrorists experiment:

The first former Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on Wednesday of all but one of more than 280 charges of conspiracy and murder in the 1998 terrorist bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The case has been seen as a test of President Obama’s goal of trying detainees in federal court whenever feasible, and the result seems certain to fuel debate over whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying terrorists.

The defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property. He was acquitted of four counts of conspiracy, including conspiring to kill Americans and to use weapons of mass destruction.

How did the US government manage to amass its pitiful .0036 batting average in this case?  Crucial evidence was thrown out by a judge because, according to our criminal justice system, its genesis was legally questionable:

On the eve of Mr. Ghailani’s trial last month, the government lost a key ruling that may have seriously damaged its chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan, barred prosecutors from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

To recap: A murderous terrorist was treated as such by CIA agents, who employed harsh interrogation techniques to wrest meaningful and actionable intelligence from him.  That intelligence, in turn, produced a witness with direct knowledge of the terrorist's central role in two mass killings.  But years later, that witness' testimony was barred by a trial judge because his whereabouts was originally ascertained using uncouth methods.  What an absolute mess.

Thankfully, prosecutors didn't come away entirely empty-handed, and this monster will go away for at least 20 years for the lone, ahem, crime of which he was convicted.  Nonetheless, this too-close-for-comfort verdict underscores the sobering reality that the administration's law enforcement approach to combating terrorism is a failure, and a dangerous one at that.   Ahmed Ghailani participated in twin bombings that slaughtered 224 innocent people, including 12 Americans, and maimed thousands.  He allegedly served as Osama bin Laden's personal bodyguard.  And yet, he came within one count of beating the wrap because the CIA treated him like the terrorist he is, rather than a garden variety street criminal in Cleveland.

There is a silver lining to this abomination: The grave embarrassment and general alarm this result will incite virtually guarantees that yet another ill-conceived, national security-endangering, internationalist, irresponsible, pandering policy of this administration will meet a swift end.  If Ghanilani had eluded just one more charge, the administration would have been faced with a wrenching choice:  (1)  Release a known terrorist because the justice system had "worked," or (2) Dredge up some justification to continue to detain him, thus proving the trial was nothing more than a meaningless piece of political theater. 

For bigger fish like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, even the faintest whiff of failure is utterly unacceptable.  The Justice Department, the Attorney General, and the President all know it.  Now that they've been mugged by reality, expect plans for upcoming terrorist civilian trials to quietly disappear.  The Left will gnash its teeth, of course, but the administration's profoundly dangerous law enforcement paradigm is defunct, and the delusion is over -- at last.