Ex Gitmo inmate takes plea

June 10, 2009 12:00 am

, NEW YORK, Jun 10- The first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be transferred for a civilian trial on US soil pleaded not guilty to taking part in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa.

"Not guilty" answered Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, when Federal Court Judge Loretta Preska asked how he pleaded.

Ghailani, a native of Tanzania, had been held at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison since September 2006 on charges of participating in the August 7, 1998 bombing of US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.

He could face the death penalty if found guilty.

The trial is a first step for President Barack Obama’s politically delicate plan to close the controversial prison and move all remaining prisoners to the US justice system or to their home countries.

The pledge to shut Guantanamo was a major element in Obama’s presidential campaign last year, along with an order to end officially sanctioned torture.

Opposition Republicans have attacked Obama for what they say is a dangerous emphasis on human rights over national security.

But Attorney General Eric Holder said that Ghailani’s transfer serves justice and posed no threat to the United States.

"With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people," Holder said.

"The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case."

Judge Preska set another hearing for June 16th.

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.

Expectations had grown in recent weeks that Ghailani would be the first Guantanamo inmate to be brought to US shores and tried in a civilian court.

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.

An Algerian national has been taken in by France, while an Ethiopian-born British resident was returned to Britain, but finding homes for the others has proven to be difficult.

Many leaders of countries who called for Guantanamo to be shuttered have refused to take its former inmates, and the US Congress has opposed moves to let them stay in the United States.

Obama is under intense pressure to decide the fate of the detainees from 30 nations at the camp, many of whom have not been charged, and who are now find themselves in legal limbo.

Some inmates may be impossible to prosecute, as the evidence against them may be inadmissible in court because it was obtained through harsh interrogation that critics brand as torture. However some of these prisoners might also be deemed too dangerous to release.

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau has agreed to temporarily resettle up to 17 Chinese Uighur detainees from Guantanamo Bay, President Johnson Toribiong said.

The president said in a statement seen by AFP Wednesday he had "agreed to accommodate the United States of America’s request to temporarily resettle in Palau up to 17 ethnic Uighur detainees."

"I am honoured and proud that the United States has asked Palau to assist with such a critical task," he said.

The Palau president said he met with US special envoy Dan Fried and his delegation regarding the resettlement of the detainees.

Toribiong said the decision was "a humanitarian gesture intended to help them be freed from any further unnecessary incarceration and to restart their lives anew in as normal fashion as possible."

Last week Canada turned down Washington’s requests to take in Guantanamo detainees, hot on the heels of Germany and Australia, which have also proved reticent.

But US sources said another three inmates, already cleared of terror charges, are due to be transferred out of the facility "very soon."

One of them, an Algerian arrested in Bosnia in 2001 and exonerated by a US judge in 2008, believes he may not be well treated if he is returned to Bosnia, his lawyer, Robert Kirsch, told AFP.

A second detainee was identified as a young man with dual Chad and Saudi nationalities who has already been cleared for release after being arrested while still a teenager, according to a US source.

The identity, nationality and possible destination of the third prisoner was not immediately known.

Meanwhile, the White House declined to say whether Ghailani would be released if cleared by the court.

"I’m not going to get into hypotheticals," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "Let’s discuss that if it ever comes to fruition."


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