In November, a New York jury found Al Qaeda bomber Ahmed Ghailani guilty on only one of 285 charges for his role in the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings. I called it “a good outcome” for a number of reasons, largely agreeing with Ben Wittes.
I’ve disagreed with Wittes on lawfare issues before, but he and Chesney are right on this case: (1) the defendant will serve a minimum of twenty years in jail, possibly life; (2) it’s not certain that the military commissions would have allowed evidence obtained by coercion (Charlie Savage also made this point in his article for the New York Times), (3) the conspiracy conviction in civilian court is solid on appeal, but not necessarily so in a military commission (conspiracy is not a traditional law of war violation, and three sitting Supreme Court justices have questioned its application in that forum); (4) the forum of conviction is less ripe for attack in courts of law and public opinion.
As it turns out, getting convicted on one of 285 serious charges still gets you a serious sentence… life without parole. Regardless of what Andy McCarthy and Marc Thiessen think, chalk this up as a win.