Alleged bin Laden contacts to face military tribunals

Pair held at Guantanamo charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes

February 25, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Two Guantanamo Bay prisoners, alleged associates of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, were charged yesterday with conspiracy to commit war crimes and will be tried by U.S. military tribunals, the first such trials since World War II, the Pentagon announced.

Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, of Yemen, produced a video "glorifying" the deadly attack on the USS Cole, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, of Sudan, served as a bodyguard and accountant for bin Laden, according to charging documents released by the Pentagon.

Al Qosi was captured in December 2001, and the documents said that al Bahlul worked for al-Qaida until that same month, though the papers offer no details on his capture.

Both men have been held at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, where the tribunals are expected to be held. More than 600 detainees are imprisoned there.

Although President Bush has authorized capital punishment for those convicted by tribunals, a defense official said that prosecutors will not seek the death penalty in these cases.

The charges against both men carry a maximum life sentence.

Bush determined last summer that six of the enemy combatants at Guantanamo were subject to tribunals and that there was reason to believe that each was a member of al-Qaida or otherwise involved in terrorism against the United States.

Defense officials said they were uncertain when the tribunals would convene.

They are expected to have between three and seven members, with one serving as presiding officer.

They would be the first military tribunals since World War II, when eight Nazi saboteurs captured on Long Island and Florida were tried at the Justice Department building in Washington. Six were executed.

Military tribunals are similar to courts-martial, though they bear some resemblance to civilian trials. Defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence and military lawyers; however, the rules of evidence are weighted toward the prosecution.

William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., criticized the process, saying it falls "far short" of the civilian standard for fair trials and claimed it is "out of step with American justice and in violation of international law."

Bahlul and al Qosi are charged with conspiring with al-Qaida to murder, engage in terrorism, and attack civilians and civilian targets.

The charging papers, similar to indictments in the civilian court system, do not say either man was directly involved in attacks but rather operated on the periphery of al-Qaida in support roles.

The documents contain no information supporting the allegations.

The indictments list several crimes attributed to al-Qaida, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 bombing of the Navy warship Cole, which killed 17 sailors, but neither Bahlul nor al Qosi is alleged to have participated in these actions.

The documents say that al Bahlul worked with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries from about February 1999 until about December 2001.

He arrived in Afghanistan in 1999 and received military training at an al-Qaida camp, according to the charging documents.

That same year, until the end of 2001, al Bahlul was "personally assigned" by bin Laden to work in the al-Qaida "media office," creating several "instructional and motivational recruiting videos."

The documents say that bin Laden asked al Bahlul to make a video "glorifying, among other things, the attack on the USS Cole ... to recruit, motivate and ... inspire al-Qaida members and others to continue violent attacks."

In the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, al Bahlul set up a satellite connection so that the terrorist leader could watch televised coverage of the smoldering World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Al Bahlul later gathered news reports about "the economic damage caused by these attacks," the documents said.

Al Qosi served with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and elsewhere from about June 1989 until his capture in December 2001, according to the charging documents.

The documents say that he started in 1989 as a courier in Sudan and the following year attended a training base in Afghanistan supported by al-Qaida.

Al Qosi worked as an accountant and treasurer for one of bin Laden's companies in Sudan, the Taba Investment Company, which the documents said provided al-Qaida with money for training and operations.

After spending four years transporting weapons and explosives within and outside Sudan, the documents say, al Qosi became part of bin Laden's bodyguard force in 1994 and continued in that role until his capture.

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