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Embassy Bombings Verdict: Defendants Found Guilty

Aired May 29, 2001 - 13:02   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: In New York today, jurors in the U.S. embassy bombings trial have handed down many verdicts, many verdicts.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is there at the court house, and he join us now with what this jury found.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thus far, and they're nowhere near finishing the reading of all of the 576 separate charges in the 302-count indictment, all of the verdicts have been guilty verdicts against the four defendants who are standing trial here in connection with the bombings on August 7, 1998 -- almost simultaneous bombings of two U.S. embassies.

At 10:30 in the morning in Nairobi, Kenya, the U.S. embassy was wracked by a bomb, and 213 were killed, and literally thousands were wounded. The embassy was located in downtown Nairobi.

Ten minutes later, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, there was another explosion. This one had only 11 deaths. That embassy was located on the outskirts of town.

There are 22 in all who have been charged in connection with these bombings in the indictment, among them Osama bin Laden, who is the head of an organization, prosecutors say, that involved a conspiracy that resulted in these bombings. He, of course, is in Afghanistan, by last reports, anyway, and was not a defendant here, but four of his associates -- the jurors have now said that they are the associates of bin Laden and have been found guilty.

The four are Mohamed al-'Ohwali. He is charged with directly participating in the bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, actually driving there in the truck, getting out and throwing a grenade at a security guard -- and he was injured as the bomb went off.

Mohammed Odeh is also charged in connection with the bombing in Nairobi, Kenya.

Let me go back to al-'Ohwali for a second. He faces the death penalty. He has been found guilty of murder, which is a death penalty crime here.

Now, Mohamed Odeh has been found guilty also, but he did not directly participate in the bombing, said the indictment, and the jury agreed. He, in fact, participated in the making of the bomb in a hotel in Nairobi. He has been found guilty, but does not face the death penalty.

The third defendant that was involved in the bombings in Tanzania, in Dar es Salaam, is Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. He is known as K.K. Mohamed. He has been found guilty of murder. He will be one who faces the faces the death penalty tomorrow. His lawyer was one of the most aggressive during this trial and can be expected to put up the most rigorous fight against application of the death penalty.

The fourth defendant is Wadih El-Hage. He is a naturalized American citizen. He lives now in Arlington, Texas, with his wife and seven children. He is charged, however, of being part of the conspiracy that went on for several years, charged with being a personal secretary of Osama bin Laden, and charged with committing perjury before the grand jury when he was asked about that. Those perjury charges were the last ones to be considered. We still have not heard the verdicts on those, but he also faces life in prison.

All of them have been found guilty of every charge that's happened thus far. As I mentioned before, two of the defendants face the death penalty. The way that's going to work is that tomorrow, one day later, the members of the defendants, the lawyers, and the jury will gather in the courtroom again. They will be asked to decide whether the two defendants who face the capital crime charges will, in fact, have the death penalty leveled against them.

This has been a trial that has gone on since January; it has been a trial that has involved over 100 witnesses and hundreds of items of evidence; and of course, it is a trial that dates back to August 7, 1998, when the actual bombings occurred. The jury has had to sift through a huge amount of material. It was in its twelfth day of deliberations, and people repeatedly would ask, How come it's taking them so long? But when you consider that in the 302-count indictment, with application to various of the defendants, there were 576 separate charges, each of which had to be considered in detail, thanks to a detailed questionnaire that was put out by the judge. You could probably argue that this jury has worked with remarkable speed.

You could also probably make the point that this trial has gone with remarkable speed. There had been predictions that it would last twice as long as it did, but Judge Leonard Sand is somebody who kept it going. He just did not tolerate any sort of delay, so it only took 4 1/2 months, this massive, massive effort.

These four defendants are only four of the 22 who are named in the indictment. I mentioned, of course, that Osama bin Laden is probably the primary one who has been named, but the other defendants are either in custody in other countries, or are still at large -- and the biggest fugitive, of course, is Osama bin Laden -- Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: You have a new crew here, so forgive us, Bob, if we ask you to repeat yourself on certain matters.

First of all, even as you report the swiftness with which this case has been dispatched, or this trial has been dispatched -- there's more of the case yet to come -- why a 302-count indictment? Why does it appear to be so complicated? As I understand it, it took over 2 days and 7 1/2 hours for the judge to instruct the jury.

FRANKEN: This is a case that involves this extremely complex conspiracy, according to prosecutors. They wanted to lay out that the indictment reads like a narrative; it lays out a conspiracy that began early in the 90s. It lays out a conspiracy in which Ben Laden, for instance, really got his anger up about the United States after U.S. troops went into the Persian Gulf, which he considered a blasphemy, when they entered Saudi Arabia. It was a conspiracy that extended to 1996 and 1998, when Ben Laden is alleged to have issued a "fatwah," which, as you know, is a religious opinion in effect calling for the deaths of Americans around the world in any way possible.

And the prosecutors charge that in this complex conspiracy, the outgrowth was the bombing of the two embassies, in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. So it was an extremely complex case, which raised several federal charges, enough federal charges to result not only in the 302-count indictment, but those counts applied to various combinations of the defendants.

As I mentioned earlier, Lou, that amounted to 576 separate charges.

WATERS: Bob Franken at the federal court house in Manhattan. And we're waiting for more verdicts in this case. So far, all the defendants have been convicted in all the charges against them, but we're waiting for more. Bob Franken will be back with us shortly -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Again, 224 people were killed during these embassy bombings in 1998.

One of the persons killed was the daughter of Mary Olds, who joins us now on the line. Her daughter was Sherry, and Sherry was killed in the Nairobi bombing.

Ms. Olds, what's your reaction to these verdicts today?

MARY OLDS, MOTHER OF BOMBING VICTIM: It seems as if justice has worked for us, Sherry, and all of the families. But this is just the beginning. The defendants will have years and years of appeal. So in a sense, where is justice?

ALLEN: Yes. Do you -- I mean, we can hear your grief coming over the line there.

OLDS: I'm just on the verge of tears. I can't believe it worked for us.

ALLEN: What are your feelings as far as the two that now could face the death penalty? Do you support that?

OLDS: I was never in favor of the death penalty until this happened to this family -- and there are some crimes that are so heinous, so horrible, that these men deserve the death penalty. But in a sense, it's an easy way out for them, too.

ALLEN: Did you follow the trial closely?

OLDS: Very closely.

Oh, my gosh, you've got a picture up there. I can't believe you found a picture.

ALLEN: Yes, we have a picture of your daughter Sherry.

How long...

OLDS: No, that's not my daughter, that's me.

ALLEN: Oh, we had you on -- yes, you're on there too. I thought you meant we had...

OLDS: I don't see Sherry.

ALLEN: We had a picture of Sherry a moment ago, which we'll put up again -- a lovely young woman.

OLDS: Put Sherry up. I'm speaking for her.

ALLEN: Yes, there she is.

And tell us again about Sherry. She worked in the embassy; what was her job, and how long had she been there, and...

OLDS: She had been there two years. She was with the security element in Nairobi. And...

ALLEN: And have you talked with other -- other victims' families today following this announcement?

OLDS: No, I haven't had a chance to talk with any of them. Most of them are up in New York. And so I guess you will get to put them on camera.

ALLEN: Well, Ms. Olds, four people found guilty today -- two will face the death penalty. And what about the fact that they're linked to Osama bin Laden, and this person just seems to be able to give the United States the slip again and again?

OLDS: He is one person that we need to stop -- his organization of hate. He is the one that declared war on the U.S. We have the small fries of the organization. But how about we get him. When our government blames a single individual such as bin Laden, we exonerate terrorist-sponsoring governments.

And the victims' families are used and abused one more time. And it leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless. And we have no recourse.

ALLEN: Well, I know that that this is a day that you feel, gosh, probably so many different feelings. Would you say that your overall feeling is one of relief?

OLDS: Relief. But I know it's not over -- this one phase of it worked for the Nairobi and the African families so far. I am relieved there. But if we don't get the main person, then we're going to be dealing with him in years to come. I know that -- you know, they say they've got him hemmed in in Afghanistan and he can't do nothing, but he can do anything he wants to do.

ALLEN: Well, we thank you very much for talking with us. We know that even though you are pleased with this verdict, it's still a difficult time for you. Mary Olds, thanks for talking with us.

And we will go to Lou now.

WATERS: Let's call upon our CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack, who is listening to all of this, following along in Washington.

Roger, I was working with Bob Franken just a minute ago to find out why this trial is as complex as it is: 302 counts; a 61-page verdict for them. I understand the jurors had to answer over a thousand questions before they were able to turn these verdicts.


WATERS: What is the process here? Why is it so complicated? An ordinary person might think: Well, if they are guilty of blowing up the embassies, then they are guilty of those murders.

COSSACK: Well, there is many, many charges, as Bob would tell you. And what the jury has to find out is whether or not certain facts and all facts have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. And those facts are then added up to make up the charge that is lodged against these people.

So the jury has to go through a great deal of questioning in terms of: Do they find this fact to be true? Do they find this fact to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt? And then there's many, many different charges. And one of the things that I think that Bob was remarking about -- and I couldn't agree with him more -- which is that this verdict, although the jury has been out for some weeks now, is really a relatively quick verdict -- not that they didn't spend a lot of time going over it, but there are just a great many questions and a great many charges in this long and tortuous indictment.

Now, there is one other thing that I think I should add. It turns out that I misspoke myself earlier this afternoon. And I want to say something -- I want to correct myself about something. I said that bin Laden was in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taleban government. I have now been told that I misspoke and that he is in Afghanistan with the approval of the Taleban government.

I think that there is a distinction between those two words. And I want to say it correctly. So it's the approval of the Taleban government and not protection of the Taleban government.

WATERS: And bringing up Osama bin Laden reminds us -- Bob Franken, let's get you in here on this -- that this trial has ended, but this case definitely is not over. FRANKEN: Well, it speaks to exactly the point that Roger was making a moment ago. One of the reasons, Lou, for the complexity of this indictment is the fact that you mentioned. There are a total of 22 defendants. This is a beginning, not an end.

So the narrative that was part of the indictment had to be very carefully constructed, because it will become part of an even larger mosaic as some of the other defendants come to trial, if they do.

Isn't that right, Roger?

COSSACK: Yes, that's exactly right, Bob.

All -- this is sort of one section, if you will, one chapter of this book that is being lodged against 22 people. And today there were four. But this -- this story continues. And this mosaic, if you will, will be continued to be filled in as each defendant comes to trial.


WATERS: Go ahead, Bob.

FRANKEN: And, by the way, I just wanted to point out, this is the indictment. It's written not only with legal principles involved, but it's written as a narrative. It's written so people can actually read, in very tight chronological order, in each of the counts, why the charge is as the charge is.

And the charges range all the way, as we know, from conspiracy to the actual bombing, to the murder charges. The two defendants there who were charged were found guilty. And those are the ones where the death penalty could apply. And then the one that we are still waiting for is the final disposition of the case of Wadih El-Hage. He is the naturalized American, who was charged A: with being a personal secretary of Osama bin Laden and participating in the conspiracy; and B: What we are waiting for is the charge about whether he perjured himself when he testified before this very grand jury.

But, in any case, back to the complexity of all this -- the complexity is necessary, prosecutors would say, because of the fact that this is such a wide-ranging conspiracy, they say, a wide-ranging conspiracy that lasted over years and was the ultimate result -- was the bombing, first in Nairobi, Kenya at 10:30 in the morning, August 7, 1998, and then 10 minutes later in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Prosecutors charged -- and successfully with this jury -- that it was part of a very tightly-woven conspiracy that prosecutors believed had to be, in fact, spelled out as an indictment.

Now, let me, by the way, give you a scene in the courtroom. It has been very quiet: no outbursts whatsoever. Several of the families -- three of the families of the victims are represented in the courtroom. They should be very much in evidence tomorrow during the death penalty phase of this trial. That is going to occur tomorrow for the two defendants. There have been no outbursts, as I said. The wife of Wadih El- Hage, who has been such a presence during much of this trial, in fact, is back home in Arlington, Texas. She was not there today -- Lou.

WATERS: Would the prosecution also concede that the way this trial has been conducted is having a positive impact in the international community in being able to combat acts of terrorism? And I say that in light of the Constitutional Court ruling in South Africa.

They have ruled that Mohamed's rights -- that's K.K. Mohamed, who is eligible for the death penalty here because of the convictions against him -- the -- that his rights were violated when he was extradited to the United States in October '99 without assurance that prosecutors would not pursue capital punishment.

Germany had similar concerns about the death penalty. I don't know if you can connect all of this up, but the international community has to somehow be concerned on an equal plane in order to put an end to this sort of thing.

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, I am going to refer to my lawyer Roger Cossack about this.


FRANKEN: But it, in fact, is a complaint that South Africa is making: that had it been adequately informed that the death penalty would be applied here, it would have then acted under its laws not allow K.K. Mohamed to be extradited.

There is also an underlying case -- and, Roger, before I let you really talk about this with some expertise -- but there is the underlying question about the application of the U.S. law in the rest of the international community. That was an issue in this case. It was ruled out of order by the judge.

So, in fact, the South African concern about the death penalty will be raised tomorrow during the death penalty phase. We can count on that. And I think, Roger, you will agree we can count on the judge saying it's not relevant.

COSSACK: Yes, that's absolutely right. But there's a bigger problem here. And the bigger problem is, is that the United States finds itself in a growing minority of countries in the world that still has the death penalty.

And other countries, wishing to protect their own sovereignty and not believing in the death penalty would -- as South Africa pointed out -- if they were adequately notified, would have not extradited this man back to the United States. That puts the United States back in a very difficult legal position.

Somewhere along the line, there is going to have to be some kind of consideration given to this, because eventually we are going to run into these problems where other countries will refuse to extradite people who are facing the death penalty in this country unless we assure them that they won't be given the death penalty. This is going to be a very difficult issue for the United States.

Obviously, the United States, like other countries, does not wish to have their -- other countries dictate what laws they would be using. But, eventually, this kind of situation is going to have to be discussed and some kind of agreement is going to have to reached.

WATERS: Gentlemen do not go away. You will earn your pay today -- Bob Franken, Roger Cossack.

ALLEN: And when we come back, if you're just joining us, we will have the latest on the verdicts, plus a close-up look at the woman behind the prosecution's case.