Leading Articles Guantanamo
The verdict of a New York jury on Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani has been interpreted in the US as a "setback" for President Barack Obama's policy of putting terror suspects on trial in civilian courts. On the contrary: it is a triumph for American justice and democratic values.
Ghailani, the first suspect to be transferred from Guantanamo military prison to face a civilian trial, was found guilty of conspiring in the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Tanzanian citizen now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison in an American jail. But there has been consternation in the US that the jury cleared Ghailani of 284 other counts of murder and attempted murder brought by the US Attorney's Office in New York.
Upon entering the White House almost two years ago, Mr Obama promised to close the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and to put the remaining terror suspects there on trial, some in military tribunals and some in civilian courts. The alleged mastermind behind the 11 September terror attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is also due to be tried in New York.
But the outcome of the Ghailani trial threatens to disrupt those plans. The President's Republican opponents seem to believe that the New York jury delivered the "wrong" verdict on Ghailani (presumably in the sense that he should have been found guilty of all charges brought against him) and are now demanding that military tribunals be exclusively used to try former Guantanamo detainees.
This would be a grave mistake. Respect for the rule of law is what distinguishes democracies from dictatorships. In a democracy, everyone has a right to be tried in a free court, where evidence presented can be challenged. In a democracy, it is …