Terrorist Acquitted=Justice?

A jury of twelve people in Manhattan recently acquitted an alleged terrorist, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani charged with over 280 counts, of all but one count. They found him guilty of Conspiracy to Destroy Government Property. He was the first of the Guantanamo detainees to be tried in a civilian court. Is this justice? Should he have been tried in a military court?

It is justice and here’s why:

(Read the story in the NY Times)


Mr. Ghailani was charged with participating in the bombing of several American sites in Africa in 2004. He was arrested in Pakistan and held by the CIA in a “black site” at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for over five years. One of the key parts of the government’s case was a statement by a witness against the defendant–who’s identity the CIA learned of only through a “confession” given by the defendant. The federal judge hearing the trial refused to allow the government to use this witness apparently because the confession was given after the CIA tortured the defendant.

The verdict ignited complaints from many sources who feel that Mr. Ghailani should have been tried by a military tribunal instead of a civil court. But for the ruling of the civilian judge they think, a military tribunal would have reached a more just decision–a verdict of guilty on more counts.

There are several reasons this viewpoint is wrong:

  • Critics forget that the jury did convict Mr. Ghailani of one count that carries anywhere from five years to life in prison. At the sentencing hearing, the rules of evidence are applied differently than at a jury trial. Undoubtedly, the government will try to use other evidence to convince the sentencing judge to be more harsh.
  • Many critics assume that a guilty verdict on more counts automatically means justice was done. Why is it that a not guilty verdict is just as powerful an indication that justice was accomplished? Prior news reports and the evidence the media released made it look like Mr. Ghailani was guilty of more crimes. The purpose of a trial, with its rules of what evidence can be used or not, is to avoid a rush to judgement or trial in the media that is always unfair to both sides.
  • Why do critics assume the jury made a mistake? This was a jury of twelve people drawn from the community who were questioned carefully about their fairness. We can probably assume they were just as worried about terrorism as any of us. The difference from them and us is that they actually heard all the evidence–those of us listening to the media heard only small, select portions of the entire trial. Why do critics assume that just because this jury acquitted on most counts, they were wrong?

There are several other points I want to make in disagreement with the idea of using military tribunals for these defendants, but I’m running out of room in this blog.

What do any of my readers think? Let me know your ideas!

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