Attorney General Eric Holder has decided that the United States will not seek the death penalty for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who is on trial in New York city for the deadly 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in Tanzania and Kenya . Prosecutors say he was a key facilitator in the attacks.
Ghailani is the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to come to the United States and face trial. He is a Tanzanian national who had been held since September 2006 at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba until his transfer to New York City last June.
The decision not to seek the death penalty in the case was disclosed in a one sentence letter from the Attorney General to the U.S. Attorney in New York asserting, "You are authorized and directed not to seek the death penalty against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani." The letter was dated last Friday but was entered into court records on Monday afternoon.
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 that killed 224 people.
Asked about the Attorney General's decision in a statement DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller said, "Ahmed Ghailani is on trial for the murder of 224 people, and we are committed to bringing him to justice for his alleged crimes. Other defendants in the embassy bombings case have either already either received life sentences or will not be subject to the death penalty because the United States agreed not to seek it as a condition of their extradition. Given those circumstances and other factors in this case, the Attorney General authorized the U.S. Attorney to seek a life sentence."
One official noted that military commission prosecutors weren't seeking the death penalty for Ghailani when he had been going through the Commission process at Guantanamo Bay.
In the wake of 9/11 accused Al Qaeda suspect Zacarias Moussoaui faced the death penalty for his knowledge of Al Qaeda operations around the globe and his plotting with senior members of Al Qaeda to possibly take part in a second wave attack after 9/11.
During his federal court trial in Virginia a jury decided that Moussaoui had no role in the 9/11 attacks and decided against giving him the death penalty in a two phase trial. The lead prosecutor in the Ghailani case David Raskin was also part of the trial team that prosecuted Moussaoui.
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.
Defense attorneys for Ghailani could not be reached for comment Monday evening.