In a June 16 segment on NPR's Morning Edition, Professor Samuel Rascoff gave his take on the case of Ahmed Ghailani, the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to be moved to the U.S. to stand trial. Ghailani, a Tanzanian currently housed in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan along with financier Bernard Madoff, was indicted in absentia more than a decade ago for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Osama bin Laden, also indicted, is believed to have orchestrated the East African attacks, in which more than 200 people were killed. Ghailani, accused of helping to buy the truck and chemicals used in the Tanzania bombing, has claimed he did not know he was assisting in an attack on the embassy.
The prosecution of Ghailani is an important test case for the Obama administration that could lay the groundwork for how to resolve the cases of other Guantánamo detainees. The real wild card in Ghailani's prosecution is the fact that he claims to have been tortured, which, at least theoretically, is grounds for dismissal. That element of risk may help to explain the government's choice to try the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which has a long and successful track record in prosecuting terrorism cases. Rascoff said that the Southern District has become the venue of choice for trying alleged terrorists, and that its prosecutors "have been centrally involved in the East Africa bombing, prosecuting members of the so-called Bojinka plot that would have downed a number of airliners over the Pacific Ocean as well as, let's not forget, indicting Osama bin Laden himself."