NEW YORK – A Tanzanian man who sold explosives for deadly attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa said Wednesday that he wants to testify at the trial of the man who bought them to clear his own name and free his heart.
Hussein Abebe may lose his chance, though, because he went undiscovered until his name surfaced during some rough handling of the defendant at a CIA camp overseas.
Abebe spoke at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where Judge Lewis A. Kaplan is trying to decide whether it is fair to let him testify against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani during his upcoming trial on charges stemming from the August 1998 bombings, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. Ghailani is the first Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee to be tried in a civilian court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz told the judge Abebe, 46, is "a giant witness for the government" because he will tell jurors that he repeatedly sold explosives to Ghailani and Ghailani lied to him.
The judge said he was still troubled because the "only way you know who he is or where he is is because of words from Ghailani."
Defense attorneys say authorities learned about Abebe only after Ghailani made statements when he was subjected to enhanced interrogation at a CIA-run camp after his 2004 arrest. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA used 10 harsh methods, including waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.
Abebe was located and questioned in 2006 by Tanzanian law enforcement authorities. At the time, he was a cab driver.
"This man knew within days of the embassy bombings that he had information on Ghailani and lived in fear of the day when there would come a knock at the door," the judge said. "He never came forward. He hid."
Yet, Abebe testified that he did not know why Tanzanian police picked him up, holding him for several hours at a police station before he was taken to an airport, where he waited another seven hours before he was flown to a seaside home and questioned for three days by Tanzanian authorities and later for two days by the FBI.
"Did you know from the moment you got to the police station ... that this was about the bombing in 1998?" the judge asked.
"I didn't know," Abebe said, speaking through an interpreter.
Abebe said that when he finally revealed to authorities that he had sold explosives to Ghailani, he cried.
"I was crying because I was angry, because I sold (for him) to do work but he killed people," Abebe said. "I sold him explosives for the purpose of mines like I do. He went there to do destruction."
He said he's eager to testify against Ghailani "because I want to take out the anger inside my heart."
"A lot of people in the world know that I'm involved by selling those explosives," he added. "I'm coming to clean myself."
Abebe said he wants to "show that I am right" and "what's inside my heart."
Under questioning by Farbiarz, Abebe said he was never arrested, never handcuffed and never mistreated by any police authorities. The testimony was meant to show that he was not coerced to testify at Ghailani's trial, slated to begin on Sept. 27 with the questioning of prospective jurors.
Ghailani was accused by the government of being a bomb maker, document forger and aide to Osama bin Laden. He has pleaded not guilty and has denied knowing that TNT and oxygen tanks he delivered would be used to make a bomb.
The judge didn't indicate when he would rule on whether to allow Abebe to testify.