NEW YORK — The first trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee to face justice in a civilian court began with a dramatic flourish Tuesday as a former ambassador described a low rumble, a thunderous blast and a burning man "in his last gasps of life" after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania in 1998.
"Every clock in the embassy stopped," John Lange, who had been the acting ambassador in Tanzania, said as he began what is expected to be months of testimony in the trial of alleged al-Qaida operative Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. Ghailani faces 286 separate counts, including murder and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, stemming from blasts that tore through the embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 7, 1998. The explosions killed 224 people.
Ghailani, 36, was arrested in Pakistan six years after the blasts and spent several years at the U.S.-run prison in Cuba before being transferred to federal court in New York in 2009. The trial is being viewed as a test of whether the Obama administration's plan to close the prison and move its prisoners into civilian courts is viable.
Prosecutors already have suffered one setback as a result of the military's treatment of detainees at Guantanamo: The judge last week banned testimony from a key witness because his information was obtained while Ghailani faced coerced interrogation methods there. But in opening statements, prosecutors made clear they hoped to overcome that with a case heavy on physical evidence and emotional testimony.
Defense attorney Steve Zissou said his client was a naive young man who fell in with older men who he thought were his friends. "These are the men who used him," he said.
HEARING DELAYED: A military hearing to determine whether an Army psychiatrist should go to trial for last year's deadly Fort Hood shootings was unexpectedly stalled Tuesday after defense attorneys requested a monthlong delay. Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge acting as the investigating officer in the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan, said he would rule today on the defense request to start the Article 32 hearing Nov. 8.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.