For Immediate Release: January 25, 2011
New York City – A federal judge today sentenced Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani to life in prison for assisting in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people and wounded hundreds more. In November, a jury seated in the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York convicted Ghailani, a decision that marked the Obama Administration’s first federal conviction of a Guantanamo Bay detainee.
“This was a victory for the United States and for the rule of law. Ghailani received a life sentence for participating in a heinous crime, after receiving a full and fair trial in our widely-respected federal court system. Our government has just demonstrated that it has the power to do what President Obama has long promised: fight terrorism and provide justice in a way that is consistent with American values and principles,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar, who observed Ghailani’s trial and was in the courtroom today for his sentencing.
According to the Department of Justice, federal courts have convicted more than 400 terror suspects since 9/11. Military commissions have only convicted five, including three plea bargains and two men who have already been released. Commission sentences for murder and material support for terrorism have generally been much shorter in commissions than in federal courts: 8 years (with only one year in U.S. custody) for Omar Khadr, 2 years for Ibrahim al Qosi, and only six months more than time served for Salim Hamdan.
“Military commissions are a newly-created court system that hasn’t proven itself capable of credibly and effectively convicting terrorists, or providing them a fair trial,” Eviatar added. “The civilian federal court system, on the other hand, is a forum where the rules are clear, the judges and prosecutors are highly experienced, and the outcomes command global respect. By giving Ghailani the basic rights to which criminal defendants are entitled in the U.S. criminal justice system, and by excluding evidence that was derived from torture and coercion, his trial now stands as a symbol that the U.S. supports and follows the rule of law when it comes to terrorism and national security.”
“The Obama Administration should build on this momentum and take steps to bring the remaining Guantanamo detainees accused of heinous crimes to justice in our federal courts,” Eviatar concluded.
- 30 -