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1st Guantanamo Bay Detainee Arrives In N.Y.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Later today, authorities bring a terrorism suspect into a federal courtroom in New York. He is the first detainee brought to the U.S. from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ahmed Ghailani's new home is the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

NPR's Jackie Northam is covering a long story of what to do with detainees before Guantanamo is closed and she's on the line today from Afghanistan. Jackie, what makes Ghailani a subject for regular criminal prosecution?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, he was indicted in 1998 for his role in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Nairobi. And in fact he faces 286 counts, and that includes one count of murder for each of the 244 people who were killed in those attacks. And among them were 12 Americans.

Military and civilian prosecutors believe that Ghailani bought the explosives and helped build one of those bombs. He was picked up in Pakistan in 2004. And Steve, he's been in Guantanamo since 2006.

INSKEEP: So that is the charge against Ghailani, and now the evidence could be aired in a federal court. How important is this transfer to New York? How important is it to the larger effort to move people out and close Guantanamo?

NORTHAM: Well, it's hugely important. Just symbolically, he is the first one that is landing on American soil and is put into a federal correctional center and into a federal courtroom. You know, this is a real turning point. The administration is not just talking about making these decisions to close Guantanamo and detain people and try them under a different system, but they're actually going to take place. And this is the test case.

Ghailani is going into the U.S. criminal justice system, and this is despite growing concerns about security, about holding the Guantanamo prisoners in the U.S. You know, many lawmakers have complained that they don't want the detainees held in the U.S. and they certainly don't want them going to trial in the U.S., even under heavily-guarded circumstances.

INSKEEP: You said it's a test case. But isn't this, in a sense, one of the easy cases because there are specific criminal charges against this man? Aren't there other detainees that the administration might like to hold against whom there is no criminal charge?

NORTHAM: Right. And in some cases there's no real hard evidence. And so, yes, you're right, Ghailani's case is going to be easier, relatively easier than the other ones because he's already been indicted. But others are going to be tried under the military commission that's already in place. But it's still a huge question mark, what they're going to do with scores of other detainees, you know, who are still being held there, whether they'll be held - tried under a federal system or some other system. All this still has to be sorted out.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam. Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.