NEW YORK - In an emotional hour, 11 people offered victim impact statements during the sentencing of Ahmed Ghailani Tuesday, including five Americans. Ghailani, the first former Guantanamo detainee to have a U.S. civilian jury trial, was later sentenced to life in prison by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
Among them, the speakers were Susan Hirsch, who lost her first husband, Abdulrahman "Jamal" Abdallah, in the Tanzania blast, and Sue Bartley, who lost her husband, Julian, the embassy consul general, and 20-year-old-son, Jay, in the Kenya attack.
Hirsch said she was "grateful" that Ghailani had been tried in a civilian court that was "recognizable, accessible, and less vulnerable to legal challenges" than military commissions.
"We hope our government will pursue and bring to court any individuals tied to the embassy bombings," added Edith Bartley, Sue's daughter, who has led a so far unsuccessful campaign to obtain government compensation for these first U.S. victims of al Qaeda terrorism.
Howard Kavaler, who worked with his wife, Prabhi, in the Kenya embassy -- she died in the attack -- turned directly to the defense table. "I hope you're listening, Mr. Ghailani," Kavaler said. His college-age daughters, who were 10 and 5 when they lost their mother, were in court with him. "I hope that Mr. Ghailani awakes every morning knowing the world regards him as a cowardly infidel."
Elizabeth Maloba, from Kenya, said she was representing all the African women made widows by the bombings. "We live in a lot of agony; we live in a lot of anger," she said. "The peace that I once enjoyed is no more in my life."
Justina Mdobilu, who still works in the Dar es Salaam embassy, said she represented the Tanzanian victims -- those principally hurt by Ghailani's actions. Mdobilu, a political assistant who was eight months pregnant at the time, survived the blast and gave birth to a healthy boy, now 12, but she suffers from post-traumatic stress and hearing loss. "I have been able to move on, but I am struggling," she said.
James Ndeda, from Kenya, spoke to the court as a survivor, having battled head injuries, asthma, and impotence since the Nairobi blast. "We lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, colleagues, and friends," he said. Ndeda volunteered that he felt Ghailani deserved one year in prison for each of the 224 people killed. He said, "I would sentence Ghailani to hell."
Yasemin Pressley worked in the Kenya embassy with her husband, Frank, who was severely injured and has endured years of operations and pain. She spotted Frank inside the embassy moments after the blast at 10:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, his left arm dangling, his face blackened, his chin bleeding. "The blood was coming out like a hose," she said. The whole scene was right out of a horror movie, she said.
Pressley, who gave birth to the couple's third child shortly after the attacks, told the court the trauma had affected their kids, set back their careers, and derailed their dreams.
"The pain is real, and we will never again be pain free," Pressley said. "If we are going to live with pain all our lives, so should he," referring to Ghailani.
Filling the void by Ghailani's silence, lead defense attorney Peter Quijano quoted his client's former military counsel, who said Ghailani had "wept over the death and destruction" caused by the embassy bombings. In a 2007 Guantanamo hearing, Ghailani had apologized to the victims, but not on this day.
Noting the lack of contrition, lead prosecutor Michael Fabiarz told the Judge Kaplan, "You should take away his freedom and take it away forever."
After he did just that, the judge reminded the federal courtroom, "There is no parole in the U.S. system; life means life."
Outside court on a snowy Lower Manhattan sidewalk, Quijano told reporters that Ghailani had been prepared for the maximum sentence and was sorry for his actions. "He feels great sadness for what happened," the attorney said. "I can tell you he has always felt great remorse."
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