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Federal judge sentences ex-Guantanamo detainee to life imprisonment

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Tuesday sentenced former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani [GlobalSecurity profile; JURIST news archive] to life imprisonment for his role in the 1998 bombings [PBS backgrounder] of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people. Ghailani could have received a minimum of 20 years in prison, but instead received the maximum sentence [NYT report] of life imprisonment without parole. The sentencing occurred a few days after the court denied a request [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] to throw out the conviction. Judge Lewis Kaplan said in his ruling that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to allow the jury to find Ghailani a "knowing and willing participant" in the attacks. The defense had argued that the conviction was inconsistent with the fact that that the jury exonerated the defendant on 284 other counts but convicted him on one charge of conspiracy.

Ghailani's conviction in November has been praised as a "victory" for the American justice system because Ghailani appeared before a jury instead of a military commission and the government was able to win its case without using evidence obtained through torture [JURIST commentaries]. In October, the court heard arguments in the trial [JURIST report], the first civilian trial of a former Guantanamo detainee. An attorney for Ghailani argued during the opening statements that al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] took advantage of Ghailani's youth and that Ghailani was unaware of the terrorists' criminal plans. In July, Kaplan refused to dismiss charges [JURIST report] against Ghailani, ruling that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had not been violated. Ghailani's lawyers had previously sought a dismissal of charges, arguing that he was denied the right to a speedy trial [JURIST reports] while being detained for nearly five years in CIA secret prisons and later at Guantanamo Bay. Earlier in July, Kaplan ruled that Ghailani was not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and was therefore fit to stand trial [JURIST report].

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