NEW YORK - Military lawyers can defend a Guantanamo detainee in federal court against charges that he participated in the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, a federal judge said yesterday, as long as the lawyers' superior officers approve.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan urged the government to try to determine within a week whether Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell and Air Force Maj. Richard Reiter would be permitted to defend Ahmed Ghailani. Both were seated in the Manhattan courtroom.
"I don't see any reason I would not grant their permission to appear," Kaplan said, saying he would be surprised if the Defense Department did not approve.
He also urged the government to decide as quickly as possible whether it would seek the death penalty against Ghailani if he is convicted of conspiracy. He also said he expected Ghailani would be tried next year. The government has estimated the trial would last three months.
Ghailani, a Tanzanian, became the first Guantanamo detainee to be brought to a U.S. civilian court for trial when he arrived in Manhattan a week ago to face charges in the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
Ghailani is accused of being a bomb-maker, document forger, and aide to Osama bin Laden when the al-Qaeda bombings killed 224 people - including 12 Americans.
He was deemed a high-value detainee by U.S. authorities after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, and two years later was transferred to the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Kaplan dismissed Ghailani's civilian lawyer, Scott L. Fenstermaker, who claimed the government had obstructed his attempts to represent his client for much of the last two years. Gregory Cooper, another civilian lawyer, was appointed instead.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin did not respond to Fenstermaker's allegations.
Ghailani politely answered Kaplan's questions in English as the judge determined that he was eligible to be assigned lawyers at taxpayer expense.
At one point, Ghailani, wearing his blue prison uniform, got the attention of his attorney by asking, "I'm sorry?"
Kaplan cautioned him that some of his questions would seem silly and then proceeded to ask if Ghailani had worked in the last five years.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told lawmakers yesterday
he had protested to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after the United States struck a deal with Bermuda
to accept four Guantanamo detainees.
The four men are Uighurs - ethnic Turkic Muslims from western China. They arrived in
Bermuda last week.
Miliband said Bermuda, a British overseas territory, should not have agreed to the deal without consulting London.
Britain handles defense, security, and foreign affairs for Bermuda,
an Atlantic resort island.
- Associated Press