In the first civilian trial of a former Guantanamo inmate, the judge has ruled that a key US government witness cannot testify, in a blow to prosecutors.
Defendant Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk), native of Tanzania, denies helping al-Qaeda kill 224 people in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa.
Because he has been identified through harsh interrogation techniques, the man officials say sold Ghailani explosives won’t be allowed to testify.
The trial in New York was due to start last Wednesday, but was postponed until 12 October.
According to BBC’s Laura Trevelyan in New York, the judge’s decision is a major setback to the case against Ghailani, and complicates the Obama administration’s policy of trying Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts.
The proposed witness, Hussein Abebe, was expected to testify that he had sold to Ghailaini the TNT used in the bombing of the US embassy Tanzania in August 1998.
Abebe was described as a “giant” witness for the government by a US prosecutor. The government is considering whether to appeal against the ruling.
While undergoing what his lawyers say were harsh interrogation techniques at a secret CIA camp, Ghailani identified Abebe.
That judge’s decision presents prosecutors with an ongoing problem: can they get convictions if evidence obtained in CIA prisons or at Guantanamo is not inadmissible in civilian courts ?
In 2004, Ghailani was held in Pakistan, and he was taken to Guantanamo in 2006. His lawyers say he was tortured.
The case is seen as a test of the Obama administration’s pledge to close the US military base in Cuba by next January.
Other detainees have been tried by military commissions, but Ghailani is the first Guantanamo prisoner to be tried in the civilian courts.