Early this morning a plane landed in New York containing US Marshals and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national held at Guantanamo Bay since September 2006.
Ghailani, currently being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, faces 286 separate criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, including conspiring with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to kill Americans, and a separate charges of murder for each of the 224 people killed embassy bombings.
He is the first Guantanamo detainee transferred to the US to stand trial in federal court and will appear in a federal court in Manhattan later today.
“With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “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.”
Ghailani is an expert document forger and travel facilitator, the US government says. Known within al Qaeda circles as "Haytham al-Kini," Ghailani worked for al Qaeda's former chief of external operations, Hamza Rabi'a — forging passports for al Qaeda members. Press accounts say he is also referred to as "Foopie" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian."
Placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list in 2001, Ghailani was identified by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in May 2004 as one of seven terrorists planning an attack on the US, based on "credible intelligence from multiple sources." Ashcroft said Ghailani had "the wherewithal, the skill, the ability, to undertake attacks both against American interests overseas as well as in the United States….Each of these seven individuals is known to have a desire and the ability to undertake planning, facilitation and attack against the United States whether it be within the United States itself or overseas."
Two months later, in July 2004, Ghailani and more than a dozen others were arrested by Pakistani police after an eight-hour battle in the town of Gujrat in central Pakistan. He was taken to Gitmo.
The decision to bring Ghailani to the US, however, is meeting with criticism from Republicans and others.
"This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Without a plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Administration has made the decision to begin transferring these terrorists into the United States, in spite of the overwhelming opposition of the American people and serious questions from Members of Congress of both parties. There are more than 200 of the world’s most dangerous men held at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Does the Administration plan to transfer all of them into our nation in this way? Do they plan to give them the same legal rights as the American people? Just what is the Administration’s plan for closing this prison?"
“Our priority must be to keep America safe, and it defies logic to put the rights of some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world before the safety of Americans by bringing them onto American soil," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a statement. "Terrorists spend years trying to sneak inside our borders, and bringing them here ourselves is utterly counter intuitive.”
The government says that there are 216 inmates in Bureau of Prisons custody with connections to international terrorism — 67 of whom were extradited to the US for prosecution. The 216 include Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Ahmed Ressam, the Millennium Bomber; and shoe bomber Richard Reid. There are 139 individuals in BOP custody connected to domestic terrorism, the government says, including Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols.
The former commander of the USS Cole, Kirk S. Lippold, of Military Families United, "by bringing Ghailani’s case into the federal court system without a policy or plan on how to deal with the larger GITMO issue, the Obama Administration is again taking a piecemeal approach to a major national security issue."
The Obama administration argues that the Southern District of New York has a long record of successfully prosecuting terror cases, including Abdel-Rahman, Yousef, and Wadih el-Hage who was convicted in the 1998 embassy bombings.
"In order to close the Guantanamo Bay facility and to strengthen our security, we must break the logjam that has kept the detainees in legal limbo since its construction," says an Obama administration official. "For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the ad hoc legal system established by the previous administration succeeded in convicting only three people. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system."