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Justice Dept.: 1st Gitmo detainee arrives in US

Devlin Barrett

U.S. authorities have brought the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to the United States, flying him into New York to face trial for bombing U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

The department said Ahmed Ghailani arrived in the early morning hours Tuesday after U.S. marshals took custody of Ghailani from his military jailers and brought him to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. Ghailani is scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court later Tuesday.

Ghailani's trial will be an important test case for President Barack Obama's plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo in seven months and bring some of the suspects to trial.

Edith Bartley, whose diplomat father and college-age brother were killed in the blast in Nairobi, said families of the embassy bombing victims were happy to see the case move forward almost 11 years since the attacks.

"It's very much overdue to see any and all individuals in the case brought to trial, and we certainly hope there will be more attention paid to the families of those killed, so those families are not forgotten," Bartley said.

"This was an attack on American soil, and we hope there will be more understanding that this attack led up to 9/11," she said.

The U.S. response to the 2001 terror attacks may also complicate Ghailani's case, as defense lawyers will likely mount a number of legal challenges to try to throw out the charges, based on the circumstances of his capture, detention and treatment over the years.

Attorney General Eric Holder said it was time to hold Ghailani accountable for his alleged role in the attacks.

"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," Holder said in a statement.

Ghailani is set to appear in court before Judge Loretta Preska at 4 p.m. EDT.

The transfer of Ghailani from Guantanamo to New York was criticized by House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who called it "the first step in the Democrats' plan to import terrorists into America."

Ghailani was indicted in 1998 for the al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, attacks which killed more than 224 people, including 12 Americans.

U.S. officials charge Ghailani began his terrorist career on a bicycle delivering bomb parts and rose through the al-Qaida ranks to become a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden.

Ghailani, a Tanzanian, was in his twenties when prosecutors say he helped terrorists build one of the bombs that destroyed U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.

He left Africa just before the bombings, according to investigators.

After the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings at U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Ghailani worked for al-Qaida as a document forger, trainer at a terror camp and bodyguard to bin Laden, according to military prosecutors.

He was categorized as a high-value detainee by U.S. authorities after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and was transferred to the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba two years later.

Since his capture, Ghailani has denied knowing that the TNT and oxygen tanks he delivered would be used to make a bomb. He also denied buying a vehicle used in one of the attacks, saying he could not drive.

Now, the Obama administration is trying to put him into the U.S. criminal justice system, despite claims by Republican critics that doing so would endanger American lives. Some lawmakers have opposed bringing any Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for trial, even in heavily guarded settings.

Last month, Obama said that preventing Ghailani from coming to U.S. soil "would prevent his trial and conviction. And after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do."

Relatives of those killed in the embassy attacks have supported the decision to bring Ghailani to the U.S. for trial. Many of those relatives say that since the 2001 terror attacks, the earlier victims of al-Qaida have been forgotten.

Yet the president faces pressure from across the political spectrum on his plan to close the detention center. Democrats have said they want to see Obama's plan for closing the base before approving money to finance it, and Republicans are fighting to keep Guantanamo open.

The decision to try Ghailani in New York also revives a long-dormant case charging bin Laden and top al-Qaida leadership with plotting the embassy attacks that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands, including many who were blinded by shards of flying glass. The attacks prompted then-President Bill Clinton to launch cruise missile attacks two weeks later on bin Laden's Afghan camps.

Four other men have been tried and convicted in the New York courthouse for their roles in the embassy attacks. All were sentenced to life in prison.

The Associated Press
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