White House officials said Thursday that the acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani on all but one of more than 280 criminal charges in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa would not undermine their effort to try former Guantanamo detainees in civilian court, even as the mixed verdict reignited debate over that policy.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Ghailani – the first former detainee to be tried in federal court – will receive a lengthy prison sentence for his conviction on one count of conspiracy.
“In the case of Mr. Ghailani, there was a guilty verdict, a minimum sentence of 20 years that incapacitated somebody that has committed a terrorist act and because of that incapacitation is not going to threaten American lives,” Gibbs told reporters.
Gibbs deflected questions about where future trials will be held but said President Obama “remains committed to closing Guantanamo Bay,” a process that would require trying detainees in civilian courts or in the military commissions established during the Bush administration.
Republican lawmakers, however, said the verdict should force the administration to abandon the civilian trials. “I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court,” said Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. “This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts.”
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