By TOM HAYS – The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 6:49 PM
NEW YORK — The first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial was acquitted Wednesday of all but one of the hundreds of charges he helped unleash death and destruction on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 – an opening salvo in al-Qaida’s campaign to kill Americans.
A federal jury convicted Ahmed Ghailani of one count of conspiracy to destroy U.S. property and acquitted him on more than 280 other counts, including one murder count for each of the 224 people killed in the embassy bombings. The anonymous jurors deliberated over seven days.
Prosecutors said Ghailani faces a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison at sentencing on Jan. 25.
Ghailani, 36, rubbed his face, smiled and hugged his lawyers after the jury left the courtroom.
Prosecutors had branded Ghailani a cold-blooded terrorist. The defense portrayed him as a clueless errand boy, exploited by senior al-Qaida operatives and framed by evidence from contaminated crime scenes.
The trial at a lower Manhattan courthouse had been viewed as a possible test case for President Barack Obama administration’s aim of putting other terror detainees – including self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – on trial on U.S. soil.