Last month, the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo detainee began in downtown Manhattan. A major test of the Obama administration’s legal strategy against terrorism, it went off without a hitch. Until today, when the verdict came in: Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian who was accused of buying the supplies for the 1998 embassy bombings that killed over 200 people, was acquitted of 284 out of 285 charges filed against him.
He was found guilty of one charge of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property, which will entail a minimum of twenty years in federal prison, but was acquitted of multiple murder charges. Administration officials were reportedly confident that he would be convicted of everything.
That he wasn’t — and nearly walked — has apparently provided fodder for critics of trying terrorism suspects in civilian court, just as Attorney General Eric Holder is nearing a decision on what will become of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 conspirators. Long Island congressman Peter King, for one, called the verdicts “a tragic wake-up call to the Obama administration to immediately abandon its ill-advised plan” for civilian trials.
But what exactly made this trial a failure? That a conviction is not preordained is kind of the point of America’s conception of justice. “I don’t think we judge success based on the number of convictions that were received,” Mason Clutter, the counsel of the Rule of Law Program at the Constitution Project, tells the Times. “I think we judge success based on fair prosecutions consistent with the Constitution and the rule of law.”
This post has been modified since its original publication to add additional information.