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First civilian trial for Gitmo prisoner begins in Manhattan

Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani

Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani Credit: Getty

Just blocks from where al-Qaida terrorists killed thousands of people at the World Trade Center, the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee began Tuesday in the twin deadly African attacks that are seen as preludes to 9/11.

His goal, prosecutors said, was simple: “Kll Americans” by helping plan the attacks on two U.S. embassies in 1998.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, worked with militants linked to Osama bin Laden to carry out twin bombings in Tanzania and Kenya that left 224 dead, including 12 Americans, prosecutors said.

Ghailani, a Tanzanian, faces 224 counts of murder and if convicted, will spend the rest of his life in jail.

His trial in Manhattan federal court is seen as a test of President Barack Obama’s handling of 174 Gitmo detainees accused of terrorism, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The administration has been blasted for its decision to try some suspects in civilian court rather than at military tribunals.

Prosecutors Tuesday accused Ghailani of buying the truck and gas tanks that caused the Tanzania mayhem. "He and his accomplices were committed to al-Qaida’s overriding goal, to kill Americans,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin said in his opening statement.

The defense argued Ghailani was only a naïve associate of the attackers, saying he was “still watching cartoons” while his friends turned to terrorism.

Ghailani was “coerced” by the CIA into naming a witness whose statements are not reliable, the defense said.

Ghailani, who was No. 8 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, was in CIA custody after his July 2004 arrest in Pakistan before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in late 2006.

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