Ghailani wants Pentagon lawyers

June 17, 2009 12:00 am

, NEW YORK, Jun 17 – The first detainee from the controversial Guantanamo prison camp to be tried on US soil asked Tuesday to be allowed to be represented by two military lawyers.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who pleaded not guilty last week to taking part in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, told a federal court in New York he wanted to keep the same attorneys who handled his case during incarceration at Guantanamo.

"They cannot without permission of the Department of Defence. Assuming that the military allows them to represent you, I don’t see any reason why I should not approve," Judge Lewis Kaplan responded, suggesting that a civilian lawyer also be added to the team.

Ghailani, 34, faces the death sentence if convicted.

His trial is the first test case of President Barack Obama’s politically sensitive plan to close Guantanamo and try alleged Al-Qaeda members on US soil, while setting free those shown not to have committed any offence.

Entering court for the conference, Ghailani, a native of Tanzania, smiled at the two Pentagon lawyers, Colonel Jeffrey Colwell and Major Richard Reiter, who were seated in the front row.

He was accompanied by another lawyer, Scott Fenstermaker, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the judge that he was able to continue in the role and should not be replaced by military lawyers.

"Application is denied," Kaplan said. "You have not in fact formed a close relationship with the defendant, and I think the defence department will authorize Colonel Colwell to defend Mr Ghailani.

The next hearing was set for July 2.

Ghailani faces 286 counts of murder, conspiracy to murder, bomb and maim, and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against US nationals, charges for which he could receive the death penalty.

According to the indictment from March 2001, Ghailani also conspired with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other Qaeda members to kill Americans.

The Guantanamo prison still houses about 240 so-called "war on terror" inmates, most of whom have been detained there since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Obama wants the facility closed by January 2010.

He hopes other countries will take in some of the 50 detainees so far cleared for release.


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