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Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
(FBI photo)
Born c. 1974 (age 47–48)
Place of birth Zanzibar, Tanzania
Spouse(s) Wife

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (Arabic language: أحمد خلفان الغيلاني‎, Aḥmad Khalifān al-Ghaīlānī) is a conspirator of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization convicted for his role in the bombing of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.[1][2] He was indicted[3][4] in the United States as a participant in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings. He was on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list from its inception in October 2001. In 2004, he was captured and detained by Pakistani forces in a joint operation with the United States, and was held until June 9, 2009, in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp;[5] one of 14 Guantanamo detainees who had previously been held at secret locations abroad.[6] According to The Washington Post, Ghailani told military officers he is contrite and claimed to be an exploited victim of al-Qaeda operatives.[7]

Ghailani was transported from Guantanamo Bay to New York City to await trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in June 2009.[8] When the case came to trial, the judge disallowed the testimony of a key witness. On November 17, 2010, a jury found him guilty of one count of conspiracy, but acquitted him of 284 other charges including all murder counts.[9] Critics of the Obama administration said the verdict proves civilian courts cannot be trusted to prosecute terrorists because it shows a jury might acquit such a defendant entirely.[9] Supporters of the trial have said that the conviction and the stiff sentencing prove that the federal justice system works.[10]

On Tuesday, January 25, 2011, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, the presiding judge in the case, sentenced Ahmed Ghailani, 36, to life in prison for the bombing,[1][2] stating that any sufferings Ghailani experienced at the hands of the CIA or other agencies while in custody at Guantanamo Bay pales in comparison to the monumental tragedy of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and left thousands injured or otherwise impacted by the crimes. The attacks were one of the deadliest non-wartime incidents of international terrorism to affect the United States; they were on a scale not surpassed until the September 11 attacks three years later. Ghailani, who had said he was never involved and did not intend to kill anyone, had been portrayed as cooperating with investigators- yielding information wanted by investigators- and as remorseful by his defense counsel, but that argument of relative non-involvement or remorse was not accepted. He is the fifth person to be sentenced. Four others were sentenced to life in prison in a 2001 trial in Manhattan federal court. Osama bin Laden was also named in the indictment until he was killed in Pakistan in May 2011.

Early life

Ghailani was born around 1974 in Zanzibar, Tanzania[5] (possibly on March 14, April 13, or April 14 of that year, or on 1 August 1970) and is a Tanzanian citizen. He speaks Swahili and had served as a tabligh, a Muslim traveling preacher, and probably visited Pakistan in this capacity.

The Denver Post printed a profile of Jeffrey Colwell, a former colonel in the United States Marine Corps, who had prepared to defend Ghailani, when he was in military custody.[11] Colwell visited Ghailani's family in Tanzania, in addition to getting to know Ghailani himself. According to Colwell "he was a young kid at that time who was sort of lured and used as a pawn."

1998 U.S. embassy bombings

After joining al Qaida, he became an explosives expert and was assigned to obtain the bomb components in Dar es Salaam according to convicted fellow Embassy bombing conspirators Mohammed Sadiq Odeh and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. This role was complicated by the fact that Ghailani could not drive so whatever purchases were too large or heavy for his bicycle such as oxygen and acetylene tanks would have to be picked up by another person in a car. Ghailani was in Nairobi by August 6, 1998, where he is thought to have rented a room at the Hilltop Hotel used for meetings by the bombers and flew to Karachi on a Kenya Airways flight before the bombs exploded.[citation needed]

At some time in Pakistan or Afghanistan, he married an Uzbek and had children.[12] Many Uzbek Islamists had moved into Pakistan and the woman is thought to be from that group.

Wanted and arrest for terrorist activities

On May 26, 2004, United States Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that reports indicated that Ghailani was one of seven al-Qaeda members who were planning a terrorist action for the summer or fall of 2004. The other alleged terrorists named on that date were Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who had also been earlier listed with Ghailani by the FBI as a Most Wanted Terrorist for the 1998 embassy attack, and Abderraouf Jdey, Amer El-Maati, Aafia Siddiqui, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, and Adnan G. El Shukrijumah. Jdey was already on the FBI Seeking Information – War on Terrorism list since January 17, 2002, to which the other four were added as well.[13]

American Democrats labeled the warning "suspicious". Dismissing the threat, they said it was held solely to divert attention from President Bush's plummeting poll numbers and to push the failings of the Invasion of Iraq off the front page.[14] CSIS director Reid Morden voiced similar concerns, saying it seemed more like "election year" politics, than an actual threat—and The New York Times pointed out that one day before the announcement, they had been told by the that there were no current risks.[14]

On July 25, 2004, a nearly eight hour battle ensued in the town of Gujrat in central Pakistan. Ghailani and thirteen others, included his wife and children, were arrested. A police officer was wounded in the battle. Pakistani Interior Minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat announced the capture of Ghailani on July 29, 2004.[12] The US Government had offered a $5,000,000 USD bounty offered for information leading to the arrest of Ghailani.[15]

Some press reports (including the New Republic[16]) questioned whether the timing of the announcement of Ghailani's capture was politically motivated at the behest of the Bush administration. The announcement was made just hours before U.S. Presidential candidate John Kerry was due to make his acceptance speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, an event at which a candidate usually receives a significant boost in the polls. Hayyat made the announcement after midnight local time, despite having apparently known Ghailiani's identity for some days beforehand. Pakistani officials denied there was any such motivation.

Soon after the capture of Ghailani and the others with him, The Boston Globe, quoting a United Nations source, said that Ghailani was one of several al-Qaeda personnel who had been in Liberia around 2001, handling conflict diamonds under the protection of then-dictator Charles Taylor.[17] Ghailani is said to have spent more than three years in Liberia.

Combatant Status Review

Ghailani was among the 60% of prisoners who participated in the tribunal hearings.[18] A Summary of Evidence memo was prepared for the tribunal of each detainee.

Ghailani's memo accused him of the following:[19][20]

The Department of Defense announced on August 9, 2007 that all fourteen of the "high-value detainees" who had been transferred to Guantanamo from the CIA's black sites, had been officially classified as "enemy combatants".[21] Although judges Peter Brownback and Keith J. Allred had ruled two months earlier that only "illegal enemy combatants" could face military commissions, the Department of Defense waived the qualifier and said that all fourteen men could now face charges before Guantanamo military commissions.[22][23]

Charged before a military commission

The Bush Presidency planned to hold up to 80 of the new Congressionally authorized Military Commissions in a $12 million tent city.

The Al-Qaeda suspect alleged to have been involved in the 1998 United States embassy bombings that killed 223 people and injured approximately 4,085 faced nine war crimes charges, six of them offenses that could have carried the death penalty, if he was convicted by a military tribunal, it was reported on March 31, 2008.[24] Scott L. Fenstermaker and David Remes were in a rare dispute as to who was authorized to assist Ghaliani.[25]

In June 2009, Ghailani was transferred to New York to face trial in a federal court.[26] The Department of Justice, under U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, directed the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, to not seek the death penalty in an October 2009 memorandum.

Transfer to the USA

Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York City, where Ghailani was formerly located

ADX Supermax where Ghailani is now located

On August 31, 2009, Corrections One, a trade journal for the prison industry, speculated that "Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani" was one of ten captives they speculated might be moved to a maximum security prison in Standish, Michigan.[27]

Instead Ghailani was transferred to New York City to stand trial in a civilian court there.

Ghailani learned that being transferred from military to civilian jurisdiction meant that he could no longer be assisted by Colonel Jeffrey Colwell and Major Richard Reiter.[28][29][30][31]

On February 10, 2010, United States district court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered the Prosecution to review the record of Ghailani's detention in CIA's network of black sites.[32] According to The New York Times any materials that showed the decisions “were for a purpose other than national security” had to be turned over to Ghailani's lawyers. It was reported that Kaplan was considering dismissing the charges on the grounds that due to Ghailani's long extrajudicial detention he had been denied the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

On April 23, 2010, a 52 page unclassified summary of Ghailani's 2007 Guantanamo interrogations was published in preparation for his trial.[33] Benjamin Weiser, writing in The New York Times reported that the summary, published during Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's civilian trial, revealed new details about Ghailani's life as an Osama bin Laden bodyguard. According to Weiser the interrogation summary asserted that during the year he was a bodyguard Ghailani met several other individuals who were among those who later became 9-11 hijackers. Following his work as a bodyguard the summary asserts Ghailani became a forger, where he became "very good with Photoshop".

Ghailani's trial commenced October 4, 2010, in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Court Building in lower Manhattan, in front of U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan. There were no protests or demonstrations during the trial, as observed by Human Rights First.[34][35] On Wednesday, October 6, 2010, in a short ruling that the judge said he would expand upon later that day, it was determined that a key witness, the Tanzanian Hussein Abebe, who may have issued statements crucial to implicating Ghailani during the time he was under CIA custody, would not be testifying in the trial. Judge Kaplan agreed to delay the start of the trial until the following Tuesday, October 12, 2010, pending a possible appeal of that ruling. On October 11, 2010, the government announced it would not appeal Judge Kaplan's ruling. Steve Zissou, one of Ghailani's lawyers, commented that the government's decision not to appeal was "a significant victory for the Constitution."[36] On November 17, 2010, Ghailani was convicted for conspiracy,[37] but was acquitted of all other charges.[37] On January 25, 2011, Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison.[38]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Richey, Warren (January 25, 2011). "Ahmed Ghailani gets life sentence for Al Qaeda bombing of US embassies". The Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on 31 January 2011. Retrieved January 26, 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hays, Tom (January 25, 2011). "Gitmo Detainee Gets Life Sentence in Embassy Plot". The Associated Press. Retrieved January 26, 2011. 
  3. Copy of indictment USA v. Usama bin Laden et al., Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies
  4. "Superseding Indictment (U.S v. bin Laden, et al.)". FindLaw. 2001-03. Retrieved 2009-06-09. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Detainee Biographies" (PDF). Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Archived from the original on date=2009-08-31. 
  6. Bush: CIA holds terror suspects in secret prisons, CNN, 7 September 2006
  7. Peter Finn (2009-02-16). "4 Cases Illustrate Guantanamo Quandaries: Administration Must Decide Fate of Often-Flawed Proceedings, Often-Dangerous Prisoners". Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved 2009-02-11. 
  8. Finn, Peter (10 June 2009). "Guantanamo Bay Detainee Brought to U.S. for Trial". Washington Post. Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Charlie Savage (November 18, 2010). "Terror Verdict Tests Obama’s Strategy on Civilian Trials". 
  10. Daphne Eviatar (November 18, 2010). "Ghailani Verdict Makes the Case for Federal Courts". 
  11. Tom McGhee (2013-02-24). "Clerk's path to U.S. District Court in Denver wound through Gitmo". Denver Post. Archived from the original on 2013-02-25. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Key al-Qaeda suspect arrested, BBC, July 30, 2004
  13. Transcript: Ashcroft, Mueller news conference,, Wednesday, May 26, 2004 Posted: 8:19 PM EDT (0019 GMT)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Pither, Kerry. "Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Fighting Terror", 2008.
  15. Rewards for Justice
  16. PAKISTAN FOR BUSH: July Surprise?, The New Republic, July 29, 2004
  17. Liberia's Taylor gave aid to Qaeda, UN probe finds, Boston Globe, 4 August 2004
  18. OARDEC, Index to Transcripts of Detainee Testimony and Documents Submitted by Detainees at Combatant Status Review Tribunals Held at Guantanamo Between July 2004 and March 2005, September 4, 2007
  19. OARDEC (2007-03-17). "Verbatim Transcript of Open Session CSRT Hearing for ISN 10012". United States Department of Defense. Retrieved 2004-10-20. 
  20. Lolita C. Baldor (March 24, 2007). "Guantanamo detainee denies knowledge of bombing". Oakland Tribune. Archived from the original on 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2008-05-19. [dead link]
  21. Lolita C. Baldur (August 9, 2007). "Pentagon: 14 Guantanamo Suspects Are Now Combatants". Time magazine.,8599,1651680,00.html.  mirror
  22. Sergeant Sara Wood (June 4, 2007). "Charges Dismissed Against Canadian at Guantanamo". Department of Defense. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  23. Sergeant Sara Wood (June 4, 2007). "Judge Dismisses Charges Against Second Guantanamo Detainee". Department of Defense. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  24. "Tanzania bombing suspect charged with war crimes". CNN. 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  25. Daphne Eviatar (2008-05-29). "Covington & Burling partner takes on defense of Guantanamo death penalty case". AM Law Daily. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 
  26. "Guantanamo detainee arrives in NY". BBC Online. BBC. 9 June 2009. Archived from the original on 10 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-09. 
  27. Kathryn Lynch-Morin (2009-08-31). "Profile of 10 U.S.-bound Gitmo detainees". Corrections One. Archived from the original on 2009-09-01. Retrieved 2009-08-02. 
  28. Chad Jones (2009-11-23). "Guantanamo Detainee Can't Keep Military Lawyers". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2009-11-23. 
  29. Larry Neumeister (2009-11-23). "Military can reassign Gitmo detainee's lawyers". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2009-11-23. 
  30. Christine Kearney (2009-11-23). "Guantanamo suspect denied military lawyers in N.Y.". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2009-11-23. 
  31. Benjamin Weiser (2009-11-23). "Bomb Suspect Can’t Keep His Military Lawyers". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2009-11-23. 
  32. Benjamin Weiser (2010-02-10). "U.S. Told to Review Files on Terror Case Detention". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  33. Benjami Weiser (2010-04-23). "Court Filing Sheds Light on Bin Laden Bodyguard". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-24. "The exchange, straightforward and as banal as any job interview might be, is recounted in a declassified 52-page summary of an interrogation of Mr. Ghailani by federal agents, which was made public Friday night in a filing in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The filing is part of the government’s response to Mr. Ghailani’s demand that his indictment be dismissed because of “outrageous government conduct.” He was detained for nearly five years in secret C.I.A. prisons and later at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba."  mirror
  34. Daphne Eviatar (October 1, 2010). "First Guantanamo Trial in New York City: So Not Scary". 
  35. Human Rights First (September 30, 2010). "Gitmo Trial Hits NYC; Manhattan Yawns". 
  36.[dead link]
  37. 37.0 37.1

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