A federal jury’s decision to find a former Guantanamo Bay detainee guilty on just one count and acquit him on more than 280 other charges has quickly renewed conservative criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of terrorism cases.
“Bad ideas have dangerous consequences,” Liz Cheney, Debra Burlingame and William Kristol of Keep America Safe said in a statement issued shortly after the decision came down. “The Obama Administration recklessly insisted on a civilian trial for Ahmed Ghailani, and rolled the dice in a time of war. The Department of Justice says it’s pleased by the verdict. Ask the families of the victims if they’re pleased. And this result isn’t just embarrassing. It’s dangerous. It signals weakness in a time of war.”
Several incoming Republican House leaders including Lamar Smith (TX), Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (CA) and Peter King (NY) also jumped on the outcome to criticize the administration. So has a Senator who at one time was thought to be a potential ally in the administration’s effort to close Guantanamo: “Members of the organization, and their associates, should be treated as warriors, not common criminals,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). He added, “We put our nation at risk by criminalizing the war. Going forward, I once again strongly encourage the Obama Administration to use military commissions to prosecute enemy combatants, particularly the 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheik Mohammad, held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”
But even though he was just found guilty on one count of conspiracy, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani’s prosecutors will seek the maximum sentence of life without parole, said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. A DOJ spokesman said Ghailani faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.
The Obama administration has come out in defense of the verdict. One administration official told ABC News that it would have been “better optically if he had been convicted of more counts,” but said it wouldn’t have made any practical difference.
“So, we tried a guy (who the Bush Admin tortured and then held at GTMO for 4-plus years with no end game whatsoever) in a federal court before a NY jury with full transparency and international legitimacy and — despite all of the legacy problems of the case (i.e., evidence getting thrown out because of Bush-Admin torture, etc,) we were STILL able to convict him and INCAPACITATE him for essentially the rest of his natural life, AND there was not one — not one — security problem associated with the trial,” a senior administration official told Jake Tapper (emphasis theirs).
Liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First and the Center for Constitutional Rights have also come to the defense of the federal court system. One of the groups pointed out that it was actually the Bush-era torture of Ghailani weakened the case against him.
“If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. “CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11. Both the military commission system and federal criminal trials have serious flaws. However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture.”
They have also rejected the notion that the outcome represented a failure for the Obama administration.
“Al Capone was put away for tax evasion, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t in jail,” said Human Rights First.