NEW YORK CITY — The first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial was duped into doing dirty work for al-Qaida operatives who attacked two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, his attorney said Tuesday in closing arguments.
“Call him a fall guy. Call him a pawn. Call him ‘set up like a bowling pin,’ in the immortal words of Jerry Garcia,” lawyer Peter Quijano told a jury in federal court in Manhattan. “But don’t call him guilty.”
Prosecutors allege Ahmed Ghailani bought a truck and explosive components used in deadly blasts in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. But Quijano argued that government had failed to prove his “naive” client was in on the terror plot.
“Ahmed did not know the object of the conspiracy,” he said.
Quijano, in a three-hour argument, urged jurors not to be swayed by fear or hatred of al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden. Prosecutors had repeatedly cited the terror group and its leader while presenting their case.
“Al-Qaida cannot be used to inflame your passion and desire for retribution and revenge at the expense of Ahmed Ghailani … because to do so would be allowing al-Qaida to win,” he said.
At trial, witnesses described how the 36-year-old Ghailani bought gas tanks used in the truck bomb with cash supplied by the terror group, how the FBI found a blasting cap stashed in his room at a cell hideout in Tanzania and how he lied to family members about his escape, telling them he was going to Yemen to start a new life.
Instead, prosecutors say, he boarded the one-way flight to Pakistan using a false name. Authorities say while on the run he spent time in Afghanistan as a cook and bodyguard for bin Laden, and later as a document forger for al-Qaida.
He was captured in 2004 and held by the CIA at a secret overseas camp before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.
Quijano argued on Tuesday that the investigation in Africa was too chaotic to produce reliable evidence. He said local authorities and the FBI “trampled all over” unsecured crime scenes during searches in Tanzania.
An army of agents failed to turn up any forensic evidence — like fingerprints on the blasting cap — that would conclusively “link my client to these monsters,” he said.
In his closing on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff called Ghailani a “mass murderer” and full-fledged member of an African cell that was taking orders from bin Laden.
“This is Ahmed Ghailani. This is al-Qaida. This is a terrorist. This is a killer,” he said.
The government was to give a rebuttal argument later Tuesday.