President Barack Obama's pledge to shutter the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, moved a step forward on June 9, when the first detainee to face trial in a U.S. civilian court arrived in New York. Wearing blue prison garb, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani made a brief appearance in a crowded Manhattan courtroom, pleading not guilty to hundreds of charges related to the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and his alleged al-Qaeda ties. Ghailani, a Tanzanian believed to be 35 years old, is accused of scouting the American embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, assembling bomb materials and escorting a suicide bomber in advance of the attacks, which killed 11 in Dar es Salaam and more than 200 in Nairobi. He later fled to Afghanistan, where he allegedly served as a bodyguard and cook for Osama bin Laden and helped forge documents for al-Qaeda. The former Islamic cleric was captured in 2004 after a 10-hour gunfight in Gujrat, Pakistan, and transferred to Gitmo in 2006. No trial date has been set; if convicted, Ghailani could face the death penalty. Despite objections from both houses of Congress, Obama has announced plans to send more of Guantánamo's roughly 240 prisoners to the U.S. for trial. (See photos from inside Guantánamo Bay.)
Believed to have been born in 1974 on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar.
Once one of the FBI's most-wanted terror suspects. First detained at a secret CIA prison before being moved to Guantánamo along with other "high-value" detainees like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Alleged, according to court records, that he was a victim of "cruel 'enhanced interrogation techniques' " and complained that he was not afforded the right to an attorney or the right to remain silent.
The indictment says Ghailani helped buy the Nissan truck used in the Dar es Salaam bombing and load it with explosives. The charges against him include murder, attacking civilians and destroying property.
Has acknowledged helping those who carried out the embassy bombings, but says he was unaware of the plan he was aiding. Apologized to the American government during a 2007 hearing before a military tribunal. Also acknowledged meeting Osama bin Laden and receiving al-Qaeda military training, but said he attended for purposes of self-defense. Denied being a member of al-Qaeda.
Will be held pending trial at New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center. It remains unclear whether military or civilian lawyers will defend him.
Some observers say Ghailani may have been selected to face trial first because the charges against him predate the Sept. 11 attacks and the government's case appears relatively strong. (Read a brief history of military commissions.)
"I would like to apologize to the United States government for what I did before ... It was without my knowledge [of] what they were doing, but I helped them ... And I'm sorry for what happened to those families who lost, who lost their friends and their beloved ones."
At a 2007 military hearing at Guantánamo Bay (Defense Department)
"This is the first step in the Democrats' plan to import terrorists into America."
Representative John Boehner, U.S. House minority leader (AP, June 9, 2009)
"It's really, really important to me that anyone we have in custody accused of acts related to the deaths of my husband and others be held accountable for what they have done."
Susan Hirsch, a Pennsylvania college professor whose husband was killed in the bombing of the Tanzanian embassy (ABCNews.com, June 9, 2009)
"The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal-justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case."
Attorney General Eric Holder. (Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2009)