Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday defended the use of civilian courts to try detainees at Guantanamo suspected of terrorism, and said some of the same obstacles to use of evidence that resulted in last week's acquittal of a defendant
on more than 280 charges would also have been faced by a military tribunal.
Clinton was commenting on the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
who was being tried in federal court in New York for his alleged role in the 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Tanzania, which claimed the lives of 224 people, including 12 Americans. Ghailani's defense contended he was an unwitting "dupe" of al-Qaeda operatives.
Ghailani was acquitted of all but one of the charges against him. He was convicted only on one count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property. A key reason for the outcome was the judge's decision in the case to exclude a key witness who the government admitted it knew about through information it had obtained from Ghailani during coercive interrogations while he was in CIA custody.
Although Ghailani still faces 20 years in prison, the outcome of the trial was seen as a blow
for the Obama administration which wants to pursue its course of using federal courts instead of military tribunals whenever possible, in a departure from the practices of the Bush administration.
Republican critics of the Obama policy had quickly seized on the outcome of the trial. Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee said after the verdict, "I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan's federal civilian court. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration's decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts."
However, asked on CBS' Face the Nation
whether the administration should rethink its policy, Clinton said, "I don't believe so ... The terrorists who are serving time in our maximum security prisons are there because of civilian courts, what are called Article Three Courts. Our Article Three Courts have a much better record of trying and convicting terrorists than military commissions do, and in fact this defendant having been convicted will be sentenced somewhere between 20 years and life."