, NEW YORK, Nov 10 – Lawyers closed the first US civilian trial of a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner on Tuesday by clashing over whether he was an innocent "dupe" during the 1998 plot to blow up two US embassies in Africa or a scheming terrorist.
Wrapping up the politically sensitive, four-week trial, Ahmed Ghailani\’s attorney said US prosecutors had "woefully insufficient" evidence to prove Ghailani knew he was helping to set up the August 7, 1998 attacks against embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in which 224 people died.
"Ahmed did not know. Ahmed did nothing with the knowledge that his actions would… lead to the murders of hundreds," Peter Quijano told the jury in New York federal court in his closing argument.
"This innocent, naive boy, was used as a dupe by his friends," he said.
In a lengthy rebuttal, government prosecutor Michael Farbiarz ripped into Quijano\’s logic, calling Ghailani, 36, a "liar" and a fully paid-up member of Al-Qaeda who played a key role in the double massacre.
The trial – held a few blocks from the site of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center – is a test of President Barack Obama\’s plan to move many of the Guantanamo detainees into the civilian justice system and ultimately to shut down the controversial military prison in Cuba.
Ghailani, a Tanzanian, was arrested in Pakistan in 2004, then went into the CIA\’s secret prison system before being sent to Guantanamo Bay.
He underwent what officials called "enhanced interrogation," which is widely seen as torture. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired with Al-Qaeda in the embassy plot and he faces life in prison if convicted.
The jury was to begin deliberations as soon as Judge Lewis Kaplan gave a legal briefing on Wednesday.
Quijano, a flamboyant speaker and dapper dresser, almost shouted at times, then whispered at others, as he pleaded with jurors to set aside their "natural desire for retribution" against Al-Qaeda and to find his client not guilty.
"To wrongly convict Ahmed Ghailani would not be justice, but yet another tragedy," he said.
In their closing argument on Monday, prosecutors painted Ghailani a "mass murderer" with "the blood of hundreds on his hands."
The prosecution case rests on evidence that shows Ghailani bought the bomb-laden Nissan truck used to smash into the embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
He also allegedly bought gas bottles used to magnify the bomb and an FBI agent testifies that he found a detonator cap in Ghailani\’s clothes cupboard.
In remarks loaded with humor and sarcasm, Quijano attacked what he called the government\’s "smoke and mirrors," saying prosecutors were full of "sound and fury signifying nothing."
Quijano described Ghailani as a small time "kid" who helped friends make purchases in Dar es Salaam\’s Kariakoo open air market. When he helped track down a truck and gas tanks for his acquaintances, he did not know they were "monsters" working with Al-Qaeda to blow up the embassies, Quijano said.
"Call him a pawn, call him a fall guy," Quijano said, "but don\’t call him guilty."
Quijano said the purchases Ghailani helped in were run-of-the-mill and would not have caused him to be suspicious. "It\’s not like you\’re buying a gun. You\’re buying commercial items in a commercial temple."
The detonator found in Ghailani\’s cupboard, Quijano said, should be discounted because the entire search of the house had been rendered "worthless" when local police and FBI agents broke basic rules in evidence collection.
The search – in which officers failed to make sure their own clothes and hands were not contaminated with explosives traces from a previous location – "could serve as a teaching guide… for how not to do it."
Finally, Quijano sought to undermine the government\’s other key argument – that Ghailani fled from Tanzania to Pakistan along with senior Al-Qaeda figures on the eve of the explosions.
Quijano suggested that an Al-Qaeda operative was using a passport forged in Ghailani\’s name and that no one had been able to testify to seeing Ghailani in person on the flight.
"If Ahmed had been on that plane…. you would have heard at least one live witness. You didn\’t. He wasn\’t on that plane," Quijano said.
In the rebuttal, which gives prosecutors the last word, Farbiarz said the idea that Ghailani didn\’t flee at the same time was "baseless."
"On August 6, Ahmed Ghailani literally left everything in his life behind: he left behind his friends, left behind his family, his job, and he left behind his name," Farbiarz said.
"It doesn\’t make sense to believe that he was duped."