Vice President Joe Biden is not only painting the single Ahmed Ghailani guilty verdict as a victory, but saying that the outcome of this first-of-its-kind trial is better than if Ghailani had been tried in a military tribunal.
"He's getting a longer sentence. He'll be in jail longer than if any other method were tried. Same thing George Bush did with the shoe bomber. Same thing he did with the 24th hijacker," Mr. Biden told Larry King Thursday night.
Ghailani was found guilty of conspiracy in connection to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; the only guilty verdict among more than 280 charges. He faces a minimum of 20 years in prison without parole.
Trying enemy combatants in a civil setting has long stuck in the craw of many lawmakers, who fear civil trials could provide a result that is too lenient. Ghailani's was the first such trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee and a big test of the Obama administration's plans to bring many of those held in detention for years to civilian court.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the result revealed civil trials are a failure and that the outcome was "all the proof we need that the administration's approach to prosecuting terrorists has been deeply misguided and indeed potentially harmful as a matter of national security."
Republicans have instead urged President Obama to pursue military tribunals for enemy combatants and other terror suspects. The president has said some military trials are an option, but each case will be reviewed on its merits and some may warrant a civilian trial.
Complicating the process are claims by some detainees, including Ghailani himself, that they were tortured while in U.S. custody. As such, the judge deemed some evidence was not admissible in his case. But Biden says, "Had he been tried in a tribunal, which some of the critics say he should have been tried in a military tribunal...the same evidence would have been inadmissible."
As detainees' cases continue to be reviewed, there remains the looming promise President Obama made to close the main facility that houses those detainees. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have said they want the Guantanamo Bay detention facility closed, but it was Mr. Obama who promised to close it within a year of taking office. The facility is still open.
Mr. Biden told King such an aspiration was perhaps premature, "I speak for myself. I spoke too soon because, quite frankly, we didn't have all the detailed data on every single prisoner, the status of that prisoner, what that prisoner's circumstance was, whether we could move them into an Article 3 court, whether they should be released, et cetera, or whether they should be tried in a military court."