THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GHAILANI SENTENCING…. If recent history is any guide, today’s court proceedings will lead to another round of complaints from conservatives. They really shouldn’t bother.
A judge sentenced the first Guantanamo detainee to have a U.S. civilian trial to life in prison Tuesday, saying anything he suffered at the hands of the CIA and others “pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror” caused by the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan sentenced Ahmed Ghailani to life, calling the attacks “horrific” and saying the deaths and damage they caused far outweighs “any and all considerations that have been advanced on behalf of the defendant.”
He also ordered Ghailani to pay a $33 million fine.
Kaplan announced the sentenced in a packed Manhattan courtroom after calling it a day of justice for the defendant, as well as for the families of 224 people who died in the al-Qaida bombings, including a dozen Americans, and thousands more who were injured.
In recent months, the Ghailani case has been a key talking point for the right, and at the surface, it’s easy to understand why — the former Gitmo detainee was brought to the U.S. for a civilian criminal trial, at the conclusion of which he was cleared of 284 out of 285 charges. Ghailani was convicted, however, on terrorist conspiracy charges.
“A ha!” conservatives said. “We told you this wasn’t going to work.”
But all things considered, the right has this backwards.
For about four years, the Bush administration held terrorist Ghailani at Guantanamo Bay, and didn’t have much of a plan going forward. The Obama administration tried an approach that made sense — filing charges against Ghailani, subjecting him to the American criminal justice system, and convicting him on terrorist conspiracy charges. Ghailani will now spend the rest of his days behind bars.
That’s not a failure; that’s a success.
What’s more, the case against him might have been easier if the all the evidence against was admissible. It wasn’t — because the Bush gang tortured him.
As a political matter, the administration may have intended to use this trial to demonstrate a larger point, and to a very real extent, it worked — there were no security threats and no opportunities for the accused to use the proceedings as a platform. Instead, U.S. prosecutors stuck to the rule of law, secured a conviction, and put away the accused bad guy. The administration wanted a public, transparent, legitimate trial, with lawyers and a jury, to help demonstrate America’s commitment to its own principles, and the result is one the public, regardless of ideology, can be satisfied with.
Republicans, meanwhile, insist that it’s preferable to try terror suspects in military tribunals, and we’ll likely hear more of that today. It’s worth remembering, then, that these commissions don’t work, and don’t deliver the results the GOP claims to want.