September 29, 2010
Former Gitmo Detainee's Trial Opens in New York City
By Daphne Eviatar, Senior Associate, Law and Security Jury questioning began this morning in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be transferred to New York to stand trial in a civilian federal court. But there were no protests or demonstrations along the likes of what was staged by groups like Liz Cheney’s Keep America Safe last December after the Obama administration announced it would try the September 11 co-conspirators in a New York federal court. In fact, if you didn’t already know the trial was going on, you’d never know that anything was different at all in the Southern District of New York courthouse. Sure, security was tight, but it always is. Observers had to pass through the usual metal detectors and check in their cell phones. It was business as usual. In fact, although most New Yorkers don’t realize it, there are now two major terrorism trials going on in the downtown Manhattan courthouse. In addition to Ghailani’s, there’s the case of four men charged with planting what they thought were bombs outside two Bronx synagogues, and planning to fire missiles at military planes. That trial, which hinges on the role of a government informant, has been going on for five weeks now without any safety incidents. In the Ghailani case, the only visible extra security was an additional metal detector observers had to walk through just outside the courtroom. Today’s proceedings consisted of Judge Lewis Kaplan questioning pools of jurors, more than 50 at a time, about such general topics as whether they or their family members had been victims of a crime or knew anyone involved in Ghailani’s case. Several had relatives who’d been convicted of murder. Most said they would not be prejudiced by their previous experiences with courts or law enforcement. The pools included a broad cross-section of New Yorkers, both U.S. born and foreign, from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. They came from Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester and upstate, and included doctors, lawyers, an investment banker, a machinist, a home health aide, a writer and a crimes analyst for the New York City police department. Of 53 in the initial pool this morning, 15 were excused by lunchtime. Jury questioning will be completed by Monday, when the judge has scheduled final jury selection.