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New York jury trying Al Qaeda suspect is at risk of deadlock

A juror asked to be dismissed, saying she felt 'attacked' as the lone holdout in two days of deliberations in the case against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, accused of bombing U.S. embassies in Africa.

November 16, 2010|By Carol J. Williams and Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Los Angeles and New York — The first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspect appeared deadlocked Monday when a juror asked to be dismissed because she felt "attacked" for being a lone holdout in reaching a verdict.

The potential for a hung jury and mistrial in the case of alleged Al Qaeda accomplice Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani threatened to further undermine the Obama administration's objective of trying "high-value" terror suspects in U.S. federal courts, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan declined to dismiss Juror No. 12 from his courtroom in Lower Manhattan and ordered the panel to resume deliberations despite the reported 11-1 impasse.

The juror did not indicate in her note to the judge whether the majority was in favor of conviction or acquittal of the Tanzanian charged with murder and conspiracy in the 1998 Al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The coordinated attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands.

President Obama signed executive orders two days after taking office vowing to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year and review prosecution options for the remaining terrorism suspects. In June 2009, Ghailani became the first foreign prisoner transferred from Guantanamo to the U.S. mainland for trial.

Political opposition to federal court trials for the terrorism suspects has since surged, with Congress enacting a barrier to relocating foreign detainees to U.S. soil. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo have said they are against holding the trials in a city still deeply scarred by the 2001 World Trade Center attack.

Others object to trying the most dangerous suspects in federal courts because the defendants would be accorded more rights than in the military commissions created at Guantanamo to try those accused of war crimes against U.S. and other forces fighting terrorism on foreign battlefields.

Of the 174 prisoners still at Guantanamo, only one remains under indictment for war crimes. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said last week that the administration was close to a decision on how to proceed with the Sept. 11 suspects still held at the U.S. base in southern Cuba.

Ghailani's jury had been deliberating less than two days when the unidentified juror sent a note to Kaplan asking to be excused or replaced by an alternate. The judge reminded the panel to consider the case in consultation with one another, urging the jurors to "not hesitate to change an opinion when convinced that it is erroneous."

carol.williams@latimes.com

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

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