Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
First Guantanamo Detainee Trial Set To Begin
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The first civilian trial of a Guantanamo detainee begins Wednesday in Manhattan federal court. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's trial has been widely touted as a preview for the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 defendants -- if those trials ever happen. But legal experts warn not to draw too many parallels.
Ghailani is accused of conspiring to blow up two American embassies in East Africa in 1998. In pre-trial motions, his lawyers advanced two arguments other Guantanamo defendants are likely to try: they asked the judge to dismiss the indictment because Ghailani was tortured while in custody and because his speedy trial rights were violated -- he spent five years in detention.
Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected both arguments.
Now that those pre-trial issues have been dealt with, lawyers say Ghailani's actual trial probably won't teach us much about how future Guantanamo detainee trials may go.
David Ruhnke has represented several accused terrorists in New York and says this trial will most likely be a replay of the first embassy bombings trial, when four of Ghailani's alleged associates were convicted of the same attack.
"I mean, the embassy bombing trial occurred in 2001," says Ruhnke. "None of those defendants came from Guantanamo."
Ghailani wasn't at that first trial, which occurred before September 11th, because he hadn't yet been captured. Ghailani was apprehended in Pakistan in 2004.
Ruhnke says now that the trial is under way, Ghailani's detention at Guantanamo will have no bearing on whether he is convicted. Prosecutors have already said they do not intend to submit evidence obtained from interrogations during which Ghailani was allegedly tortured.
Lawyers will begin questioning prospective jurors in court Wednesday morning.