His case became a political issue over American terror response, but Ahmed Ghalfan Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday because of his role in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa.
U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in near-simultaneous attacks attributed to al-Qaida in August 1998. The blasts killed 224 people and wounded thousands. Ghailani helped fellow conspirators buy a truck and gas cylinders used in the bombings and performed other services.
He was acquitted on 224 counts of murder in November but convicted of one conspiracy count. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan would not allow prosecutors to use evidence obtained from Ghailani while he was allegedly tortured at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
He made no statement before Kaplan handed down the sentence.
Kaplan upheld Ghailani's conviction last week, saying the evidence showed Ghailani's involvement in securing supplies for the bombing and his relationship with al-Qaida operatives proved he knew the ultimate plan.
That evidence rendered any plea for leniency based on his treatment in U.S. custody ineffective. "This crime was so horrible," Kaplan said Tuesday. "It was a cold-blooded killing and maiming of innocent people on an enormous scale.
"It wrecked the lives of thousands more... who had their lives changed forever. The purpose of the crime was to create terror by causing death and destruction on a scale that was hard to imagine in 1998 when it occurred."
In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder hailed the sentencing as proof that U.S. courts can bring terrorists to justice. "Ghailani is the fifth person to be convicted in federal court in connection with the embassy bombings," Holder said, "and we hope this life sentence brings some measure of justice to the victims of these attacks and their families and friends who have waited so long for this day."