The first former Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in federal criminal court was found not guilty on Wednesday on all but one of the 285 counts he faced for his role in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.
The verdict will likely kill the already fading prospect of putting other Guantanamo detainees on trial in U.S. civilian courts.
After deliberating for five days, a jury of six men and six women found Ahmed Ghailani, 36, guilty of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property, but acquitted him of all 276 counts of murder and attempted murder, as well as other conspiracy charges.
Ghailani, a native of Tanzania, was sent to New York for prosecution in June 2009 in what the Obama administration hoped would be the first case in a series of federal prosecutions of Guantanamo detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-conspirators accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.[...]
Ghailani still could be sentenced to life in prison, and faces a minimum of 20 years, according to the Justice Department. But the verdict was a blow to administration officials who were quietly confident that Ghailani would be found guilty on all charges, despite the judge's ruling against the government on a key issue. Just last week, a senior administration official said a not guilty verdict would be a "disaster" for the administration's Guantanamo policy.
The question as to whether detainees suspected of terrorism should be treated as international criminals, prisoners of war, or some hybrid combination of the two is a difficult one. Today's results make it likely that further trials in civilian criminal courts will be avoided--but what should be done with potentially dangerous detainees--and what should be done with the ones who end up being innocent, as some have? This is the sort of situation which has, I think, no easy answers.