The first, and possibly the last, Guantanamo detainee to have a U.S. civilian trial was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for his role in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, a case that nearly unraveled when the defendant was convicted on just one of more than 280 counts.
Ahmed Ghailani, who served as Osama bin Laden's cook and bodyguard after the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, sought leniency, claiming he had been tortured at a secret CIA detention site after his arrest in Pakistan seven years ago. But U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan imposed the maximum sentence, saying that whatever Ghailani suffered "pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror" caused by the nearly simultaneous attacks, which killed 224 people and injured thousands more.
Ghailani, 36, was convicted last month of conspiring to destroy government buildings. Prosecutors said he bought a truck used in the Tanzanian attack, stored and concealed detonators, sheltered an al-Qaida fugitive and delivered hundreds of pounds of TNT to the African terror cell.
His trial in a lower Manhattan courthouse had been viewed as a test for President Obama's aim of putting other terror detainees -- including self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed -- on trial on U.S. soil. His hands are tied, however -- at least in the short term -- because lawmakers have prohibited the Pentagon from transferring detainees to the United States.
The prosecution of Ghailani is considered a success by supporters of civilian trials for detainees at the prison on the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Critics say it showed that such trials are too risky.