- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — The first civilian trial for a Guantanamo Bay detainee was delayed Wednesday after a Manhattan judge told prosecutors they cannot call their star witness.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan blocked the government from calling a man who authorities said sold explosives to the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. Defense lawyers say investigators learned about the witness only after Mr. Ghailani underwent harsh interrogation at a secret CIA-run camp overseas between 2004 and 2006.

“The court has not reached this conclusion lightly,” Judge Kaplan wrote. “It is acutely aware of the perilous nature of the world in which we live. But the Constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests. We must follow it not when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction.”

The government immediately asked for a delay of the trial, which was expected to begin with opening statements on Wednesday, so that it has time to appeal the ruling, should it decide to do so.

The judge sent a pool of 66 jurors home until Tuesday, but not before warning them against hearing anything about the case from news reports or discussing it with anyone.

Mr. Ghailani is charged with conspiring in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The attacks killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.

He was smiling and conversing with his lawyers at the defense table after the judge ruled.

The judge issued his written three-page ruling after a hearing three weeks ago in which the witness, Hussein Abebe, testified about his dealings with authorities.

“The government has failed to prove that Abebe’s testimony is sufficiently attenuated from Ghailani’s coerced statements to permit its receipt in evidence,” Judge Kaplan wrote.

The defense previously asked the judge to exclude Mr. Abebe’s testimony on the grounds that it would be the product of statements made by Mr. Ghailani to the CIA under duress.

On that point, Judge Kaplan said, “Abebe was identified and located as a close and direct result of statements made by Ghailani while he was held by the CIA. The government has elected not to litigate the details of Ghailani’s treatment while in CIA custody. It has sought to make this unnecessary by asking the court to assume in deciding this motion that everything Ghailani said while in CIA custody was coerced.”

The judge noted that he previously had rejected defense motions to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that Mr. Ghailani was deprived of a speedy trial and that his treatment by the CIA was so outrageous as to require termination of the charges.

Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.

 

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