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U.S. judge clears trial for ex-Guantanamo detainee

By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday cleared the way for a trial against a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner by rejecting arguments that his five years of detention by American authorities before entering civilian courts had violated his right to a speedy trial.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, is charged with conspiring in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people.

Prosecutors say he worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11, 2001 aerial attacks on the United States, and as a document forger.

He is the only detainee so far to be transferred to the United States from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for trial in a civilian court.

His lawyers had argued that two years in CIA custody and three more at Guantanamo kept Ghailani from standing trial for far too long, violating his constitutional right to a speedy trial. They wanted the indictment dismissed.

U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, however, said in the 48-page ruling the CIA detention time was justified by national security considerations, and officials have said Ghailani provided valuable intelligence under interrogation.

The judge also ruled Ghailani's ensuing stint at Guantanamo from September 2006 to June 2009 was not a violation of his rights because he was then considered an enemy combatant, a status carrying fewer defendant rights.

Kaplan said the U.S. government had wanted Ghailani to be prosecuted by a military commission but later changed course and decided to pursue the case in civilian court.

He was then pressed with civilian criminal charges and taken to a Manhattan detention center to await trial.

"There is no evidence that the government ever acted in bad faith to gain a tactical advantage over or to prejudice Ghailani with respect to his defense of this indictment," Kaplan said.

Lawyers representing Ghailani declined to comment.

He was captured in July 2004, court documents said, and detained by the CIA at a secret location.

Ghailani's lawyers have argued he was subjected to "enhanced" interrogation techniques by the CIA, which amount to being tortured, they said, and which left him with permanent emotional scarring.

His trial is due to begin in Manhattan federal court on September 27. He has pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison if convicted.

(Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Walsh)