The conviction of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani Wednesday appeared to do little to settle the debate over whether to hold a civilian trial for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Those who support using the U.S. criminal justice system to try accused terrorists noted that the trial proceeded in New York without incident and produced a guilty verdict under the rule of law.
But those opposed point out that Ghailani nearly got off.
"It was a tragic miscarriage of justice. He was acquitted on every murder count. He was acquitted on 284 of 285 counts," said Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford), the
incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a foe of civilian trials for accused terrorists.
"The main reason he was acquitted was because evidence cannot be admitted against him that would have been admitted in a military commission," King added.
"This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration's decision to try al-Qaida terrorists in civilian courts."
On Wednesday, the Obama administration did not comment directly on the question but implicitly approved of the proceeding by applauding the successful completion of the trial.
"We respect the jury's verdict and are pleased that Ahmed Ghailani now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison and a potential life sentence for his role in the embassy bombings," said Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the decision whether to pursue a civilian or military trial is the federal government's alone.
Given the disruption to neighborhoods, the high cost to New York City taxpayers, and the uncertainty of how the city would be reimbursed by the federal government, Bloomberg would prefer that the trials be held elsewhere, said his spokesman, Stu Loeser.
"In other words, we've always said we could safely host a trial, but have also said would rather not," Loeser said.
Another Justice official pointed out that Ghailani is now the fifth person to be convicted in a federal court in connection with the attacks against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.