Ex-Guantanamo prisoner gets life in civilian trial

The first former Guantanamo Bay detainee to face civilian trial in the US was refused leniency yesterday, instead receiving a life jail sentence and a symbolic multi-million dollar fine for bombing US embassies in East Africa.

Ahmed Ghailani, a former bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, was convicted of conspiring in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people and injured thousands.

The 36-year-old Tanzanian national was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and later interrogated overseas at a secret CIA-run camp. He was moved to the notorious Guantanamo Bay, where he alleged he was mistreated during interrogations, and then to New York in an experiment to see whether high-profile terror suspects could be properly tried in the US.

A jury found Ghailani guilty in November last year of just one charge in his 285-count indictment, acquitting him of the rest including over 200 counts of murder.

But dismissing defence lawyers' pleas for leniency, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan sentenced Ghailani to the maximum prison sentence of 36 years, telling the packed Manhattan courtroom that whatever Ghailani's suffering, "it pales in comparison to the horror he and his confederates caused".

Ghailani bowed his head and closed his eyes while gripping the edge of the defence table with both hands.

"It was a cold-blooded killing and maiming of innocent people on an enormous scale," the judge added. "The purpose of the crime was to create terror by causing death and destruction on a scale that was hard to imagine in 1998."

In a largely symbolic move, Judge Kaplan also ordered Ghailani to pay amends of $33million (£21m) to the US government and relatives of victims of the "horrific" attack.