Terrorism Conviction Supposedly Demonstrates Futility of Seeking Terrorism Convictions

Imagine that the government were prosecuting an alleged serial killer for a series of murders, and when the jury returned its verdict, it found him guilty of only one of the alleged crimes. Your response would probably be, well, it would have been better if they had enough evidence on the other crimes, but in the end, they got the guy, and the conviction will be enough to keep him in prison for life. So you'd probably be surprised if the headlines the next day read, "Serial Killer Acquitted of All But One Charge; Verdict Calls Into Question Government Strategy of Using Courts to Try Murderers."

But that's what just happened with the case of Ahmed Ghailani, who was implicated in the 1998 Kenya embassy bombing. While the government hoped to convict him of the murders of everyone who died, the jury ended up returning a guilty verdict only on one conspiracy charge. This may have had something to do with the exclusion of evidence that was produced when Ghailani was tortured. Nevertheless, a conviction was obtained, and Ghailani will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.

Here's how The Washington Post played it:

Ahmed Ghailani, Gitmo detainee, acquitted of all but 1 charge in N.Y.
The first former Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in federal criminal court was found guilty on a single conspiracy charge Wednesday but cleared on 284 other counts. The outcome, a surprise, seriously undermines - and could doom - the Obama administration's plans to put other Guantanamo detainees on trial in U.S. civilian courts.

And here's The New York Times:

Detainee Acquitted on Most Counts in ’98 Bombings
The first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on Wednesday of all but one of more than 280 charges of conspiracy and murder in the 1998 terrorist bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The case has been seen as a test of President Obama’s goal of trying detainees in federal court whenever feasible, and the result seems certain to fuel debate over whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying terrorists.

And here's the L.A. Times:

U.S. civilian court acquits ex-Guantanamo detainee of all major terrorism charges
A New York federal jury acquitted alleged Al Qaeda accomplice Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on Wednesday of all major terrorism charges in the 1998 suicide bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

So to review: We caught this guy; we tortured him; we put him on trial; although we couldn't use the evidence we got from torturing him, we still convicted him. Not only that, he's one of nearly 400 suspects we've convicted of terrorism-related charges in civilian courts since September 11. And the lesson is supposed to be that we shouldn't be putting suspected terrorists on trial?

-- Paul Waldman

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