October 10, 2010 / 8:41 PM / in 7 years

U.S. won't appeal Guantanamo witness ruling

NEW YORK, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Sunday said they will not appeal a U.S. judge’s ruling that refused to let a key witness testify in the first criminal trial of a terrorism suspect from the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

“The government ... has decided not to pursue an appeal from the court’s decision,” said a letter from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District to the presiding judge in the case.

On Wednesday the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani at Manhattan federal court was delayed when judge Lewis Kaplan ruled against the participation of a key government witness.

Ghailani, 36, is a Tanzanian charged with conspiring with Islamic militants to bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, in which 224 people were killed. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors had wanted the court to hear testimony from Tanzanian witness Hussein Abebe, who they say told FBI agents he had sold explosives to Ghailani that were used later in one of the bombings.

The defense argues Ghailani was coerced into naming Abebe, and that he should not be allowed to testify.

Kaplan said on Wednesday he would not allow Abebe to testify and that he was basing his decision on protecting the U.S. Constitution from admitting coerced testimony into civilian courts.

From the outset, prosecutors said they would not use any statements Ghailani may have made while in CIA custody after his July 2004 arrest in Pakistan. Prosecutors have acknowledged those statements were likely “coerced,” but the judge said the government would not have been able to find Abebe without those statements.

In Sunday’s letter, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the government did not wish to delay the trial with an appeal, adding that its case was sufficient without Abebe’s testimony, and that both foreign witnesses and victims had already arrived in New York and were counting on the trial’s original start date.

Ghailani’s trial is being watched closely as a test of President Barack Obama’s approach to handling the 174 suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Obama’s administration has adopted what it calls a flexible approach, favoring military tribunals in some cases and civilian trials in others. Most Republicans say all terrorism suspects should be tried in military tribunals.

Reporting by Chris Michaud, Editing by Sandra Maler

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