[JURIST] The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Tuesday heard opening statements in the first civilian trial of a former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee. An attorney for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani [GlobalSecurity profile; JURIST news archive] argued during the opening statements that al Qaeda took advantage of Ghailani’s youth and that Ghailani was unaware [VOA report] of the terrorists’ criminal plans. Ghailani faces criminal charges for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies [PBS backgrounder] in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people. Along with the embassy bombing charges, Ghailani is charged with 286 separate counts including conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda to kill Americans anywhere in the world. He appeared in federal court [JURIST report] two weeks ago for jury selection and has been in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center [official website] in Manhattan since he was transferred to the US [JURIST report] in June 2009.
The start of Ghailani’s trial was postponed last week when Judge Lewis Kaplan barred key US government witness [JURIST report] Hussein Abebe from testifying because his testimony was the product of statements made by Ghailani to the Central Intelligence Agency under duress. Ghailani’s defense filed a motion to dismiss over the summer, saying he would not get a fair trial, but the court denied the motion [text, PDF; JURIST report] because “the government is entitled to attempt to hold Ghailani accountable in a court of law for his alleged complicity in the murder of 224 people and the injury of more than 1,000 others.” US President Barack Obama [official profile] said last year in a speech on national security [JURIST report] that preventing Ghailani from coming to the US would prevent justice from being served. The announcement [JURIST report] that Ghailani would be tried in federal court came in May 2009 following the ordered review of all Guantanamo detainees pursuant to plans to close the detention facility [JURIST news archive].