Yesterday a federal judge decided to exclude testimony from a witness in the trial of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee on the grounds that investigators only learned about the witness only after the suspected terrorist underwent coercive interrogation in a secret CIA prison.
Now Liz Cheney has blamed the Obama administration for the decision to try Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani in civilian court in the first place — even though it was a Bush administration decision to hold him in a secret prison which lead to the ruling yesterday.
“The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens,” Cheney said in a statement sent to TPMMuckraker.
“By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,” Cheney added. “If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”
But ultimately it was the Bush administration’s handling of Ghailani after he was captured on a battlefield back in 2004 which caused issues with the use of the witness, Hussein Abebe. The judge ruled that Abebe “was identified and located as a close and direct result of statements made by Ghailani while he was held by the CIA.”
Ghailani’s lawyers had said investigators only learned about the witness after the terrorism suspect had undergone harsh interrogation in the CIA’s custody at a secret overseas camp between 2004 and 2006. Federal prosecutors, who conceded that Ghailani’s statements been coerced but said that the testimony from the witness should be allowed, asked for a delay to decide whether the government would appeal.
Michael Farbiarz, a federal prosecutor, had called Abebe a “giant witness for the government.”
According to ProPublica, the government has lost eight of 15 cases filed by Guantánamo inmates in which they claimed they or witnesses against them were forcibly interrogated, and criminal prosecutions — in either military or civilian courts — could be jeopardized by the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday that the government was still reviewing its options, but that federal courts are perfectly capable of handling such cases.
“We have to understand something, we are talking about one ruling, in one case by one judge that we will look at and decide how we want to react to it,” Holder said. “I think the true test is, ultimately, how are these cases resolved, what happens, can these cases be brought into Article III courts? And can they be successfully resolved from the government’s perspective?”
“And history has shown us, over 300 times, that in fact we can do that, either by pleas, by trials. And I think it’s too early to say that at this point the Ghailani matter is not going to be successful,” he said. “We have to deal with this one ruling and we will and the matter will proceed. And at the conclusion of the Ghailani case, I’ll ask you to ask me that question again and I’m going to give you the same answer; that Article III courts are fully capable of handling these matters.”
But outside life appeared to go on as usual. The surrounding streets remained open, and passers-by took little notice of the few additional uniformed officers stationed on the sidewalks or of the media presence. Reporters and television cameras crowded into a makeshift pen of metal police barricades, awaiting a promised statement from Ghailani’s attorney, but the cluster was modest for a courthouse where headline-making cases are routine.