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Uncertainty around ex-Gitmo detainee sentence

One of more than 30 victims of the 1998 embassy bombings to write to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan about Tuesday's scheduled sentencing of Ahmed Ghailani, former U.S. foreign service officer Howard Kavaler, sees Ghailani as indistinguishable from any other terrorist.

"Let him wake up every morning knowing that humanity is united in viewing him as a cowardly infidel who is despised by all and respected by none," wrote Kavaler, who lost his wife in the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. He urged a life term for Ghailani.

On the other side of the ledger, Ghailani's former military defense lawyer, Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, described his ex-client as a poor, impressionable young Tanzanian "preyed upon" by al-Qaida. He said Ghailani deserves a break because of his rough interrogation by the CIA after his capture in 2004.

"As a nation, we cannot ignore how Mr. Ghailani was treated, and you have the ability to ensure that we do not ignore his treatment through the sentence you adjudge," Colwell wrote the judge.

Ghailani, 36, was convicted in federal court in Manhattan last November of conspiring to bomb U.S. property in the attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that took 224 lives. The first former CIA and Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court after undergoing abusive interrogation, he faces 20 years to life. Typically, experts say, convicted terrorists get harsh sentences.

But this case has been complicated both by its history - the defense call for leniency because of Ghailani's mistreatment, and because of valuable intelligence he provided - and by the verdict. Jurors acquitted Ghailani of 284 counts, including all involving murder, and seemed to buy his defense that he had been duped into helping get materiel for the plot without understanding it.

Prosecutors couldn't tell jurors about statements Ghailani made during questioning because his interrogation was coercive. But to counter his defense, they have urged Kaplan to take some of them into account - including an admission that he had learned that a U.S. embassy was targeted about a week in advance.

"AKG [Ghailani] said that he thought of himself as being involved and thus, he could not tell anyone," says an FBI summary filed in court. "When asked if he thought he was as guilty as they were, AKG responded, 'Yes.' At this point AKG broke down and began crying."

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