The first Guantanamo Bay detainee to come to the United States pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court to charges of conspiracy and murder stemming from his alleged role in the 1998 bombing attacks at two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Tanzanian national Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who had been held since September 2006 at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba until his transfer to New York City Tuesday morning, entered the courtroom in lower Manhattan wearing a light blue tunic over an orange prison shirt and blue pants.
Ghailani, who stands approximately 5'5", was not in handcuffs and showed a slight smile as both his military attorney Col. Jeffrey Colwell and his civilian lawyer Scott Fenstermaker spoke before the court.
The defense waived a reading the 149-page indictment during the hearing, which lasted only about 15 minutes.
The accused al Qaeda operative is facing 286 separate counts for his alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombing of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. 224 people died in the attacks.
Ghailani listened to federal magistrate judge Loretta Preska on headphones via a translator. Asked how he wished to plead to the charges against him, Ghailani, speaking in English, responded, "Not guilty."
Federal prosecutors David Raskin, Leslie Brown and Nick Lewin are assigned to the case; Raskin, the lead prosecutor, was also part of the team that prosecuted Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006.
Ghailani was originally indicted in 1998, and a superseding indictment, for which he is facing trial, was returned in March 2001. Captured in July 2004 in Pakistan, Ghailani was part of the CIA's High Value Terrorist Detainee program and was eventually transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
He will appear in court again next week before District Court Judge Kevin Duffy, who presided over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial.
A possible schedule of pre-trial motions and eventual trial could be decided on. Prosecutor Raskin said the discovery in the case against Ghailani will be "voluminous."
A new lawyer is expected to be appointed for Ghailani. His attorney for the appearance, Fenstermaker, said he has enjoyed the pro bono work representing the accused terrorist, but said he is not specifically licensed in the district where the trial will take place.
At the next hearing, the court is expected to appoint someone from the federal public defenders office to represent Ghailani.
In a statement today, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, said, "This is an important step in our longstanding and continuing effort to hold accountable those responsible for the murder of 224 innocent people in Kenya and Tanzania.
We will continue to work tirelessly to make sure that each person involved is held accountable for their deadly terrorist actions -- however long it takes."
After the proceedings, Ghailani's military defense counsel Colwell said, "The military commission to date, and don't quote me, the President said this a couple of days ago, has failed."
Colwell also said the trial being brought to New York City "is good thing for the rule of law."