Tanzanian police cast shadow over Guantanamo trial
By Basil Katz
Throughout the trial, defense lawyers have been suggesting to the jury that Tanzanian witnesses who testified against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first suspect from Guantanamo to face a criminal court, were in some way intimidated by the Tanzanian national police and fear reprisals back home.
Prosecutors deny the witnesses have been under any pressure and say the Tanzanian police escorts who accompanied them on their plane ride to New York were provided due to the complexity of international travel and the high stakes nature of the case.
Ghailani, 36, a Tanzanian from Zanzibar, has been on trial in Manhattan on charges he conspired in the 1998 al Qaeda car bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
The lawyers finished closing arguments Tuesday and the jury begins deliberations Wednesday.
In his closing, defense attorney Peter Quijano urged the jury to wonder “why is the Tanzanian national police here?”
“Why do you need the Tanzanian national police hovering, babysitting, on the same flight, in the same hotel?” Quijano asked. “Why are they shadowing these people?”
The Tanzanian police played an important role in the days and months after the bombings, sharing evidence and witnesses with the FBI, court documents and testimony showed.
Court papers show that after the bombings, the police helped U.S. prosecutors form their case against Ghailani, who was transferred to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006 and faces life in prison if convicted.
At the start of the trial, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan barred testimony from a potential witness, Hussein Abebe, and the Tanzanian national police commissioner who had arrested him.
Kaplan said Abebe was not threatened or abused. But Kaplan also said the fact that Abebe “was taken off the street in Arusha, flown to an unknown location in Zanzibar, held incommunicado and questioned for a week, and then locked up in Dar es Salaam for another five days,” constituted an “implicit threat,” putting into question his free will to testify.
Prompted by the defense team, three witnesses told the court that Tanzanian police officers had escorted them on their flight to New York, and two said Tanzanian police were staying on the same floor in their hotel.
Bus driver Ladha Hussein told the court that when he tried to call a member of the defense team a Tanzanian police officer named Nicholas snatched the phone away.
“Nicholas got very angry with you, didn’t he?” Quijano asked.
“Yes,” Hussein answered through an interpreter, “he took it (the cellphone) away and then at night he gave it back.”
The three witnesses also said that at no point did a Tanzanian national police officer escort them to court and prosecutors have suggested the defense raised the Tanzanian police specter in order to bolster their case.
Photos: REUTERS/Christine Cornell ( Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani depicted in courtroom sketch)’; REUTERS/Chip East (The Moynihan Federal Courthouse in New York where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani )