A Pentagon official approved murder and terrorism charges Friday against a Guantanamo captive suspected in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania but ruled out the death penalty in his war crimes trial.
The action cleared the way for Tanzanian prisoner Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani to be tried in the special military tribunal at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Prosecutors filed the charges in March and asked to execute Ghailani if he were convicted of supplying equipment and other support for the bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam on Aug. 7, 1998.
Eleven people were killed and at least 85 were wounded in the bombing. A nearly simultaneous bombing in Kenya killed 213 people.
The Pentagon appointee overseeing the Guantanamo tribunals, Susan Crawford, signed off on all nine charges against Ghailani but decided, without explanation, that it would not be tried as a capital case. That means the maximum punishment on conviction would be life in prison, the Pentagon said in an announcement Friday.
Ghailani is charged with murder, attacking civilians and civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destroying property, terrorism and providing material support to terrorism, all in violation of the laws of war.
At a 2007 hearing to determine that he was an "enemy combatant," Ghailani confessed and apologized for supplying equipment used in the Tanzania bombing but said he did not know the supplies would be used to attack the embassy, according to military transcripts.
He told the Guantanamo review panel he bought the TNT used in the bombing, purchased a cell phone used by another person involved in the attack and was present when a third person bought a truck used in the attack, the transcript said.
U.S. military prosecutors also accuse him of scouting the embassy, meeting with co-conspirators in Nairobi and fleeing to Pakistan a day before the bombing.
Since the United States began sending suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban captives to its military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002, only two trials have been completed and neither involved the death penalty.
Five prisoners accused of plotting the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks in 2001 that prompted the Bush administration's war on terrorism could face execution if convicted at their pending trial.
Prosecutors also sought the death penalty against the accused mastermind of the attack on the warship USS Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, but Crawford has yet to sign off on that request. An explosives-laden boat attacked the ship in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors.