NEW YORK – 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 the 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 to conceal his involvement.
The day before the nearly simultaneous attacks on the embassies on Aug. 7, 1998, prosecutors say Ghailani boarded a one-way flight to Pakistan under an alias with senior al-Qaida members. 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, authorities say.
He was captured in 2004 in Pakistan 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 a rebuttal argument Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz dismissed the "dupe theory" as "illogical."
The prosecutor cited testimony by Ghailani's cousin that the defendant claimed he was moving to Yemen to start a new life shortly before he vanished from Tanzania. Investigators later recovered a passport with his photo and a fake name.
"The operatives in this plot lied and he's one of the liars," he said. "He's lying about who he is. ... He's not a dupe."
The jury was expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday afternoon.