Guantanamo trial, Guantanamo al-bahlul
Mark Wilson/AP

Al-Qaida Propagandist Convicted in Guantanamo Trial

November 03, 2008 04:41 PM
by Denis Cummings
Former bin Laden aide Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was convicted Monday on terrorism-related charges; it was the second trial held at Guantanamo Bay and likely one of the last.

Al-Bahlul Convicted

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was convicted Monday by a jury of nine U.S. military officers of 35 counts of conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and providing material support for terrorism. He faces life in prison and could be sentenced as early as today.

Al-Bahlul, originally from Yemen, served as al-Qaida’s media secretary from 1999 to 2001, when he was captured by U.S. forces. He filmed the video wills of two Sept. 11 hijackers and created al-Qaida propaganda videos, one of which was shown during the trial. It was allegedly shown to terrorist recruits at a camp in Afghanistan and spread around the world to recruit others to the al-Qaida cause.

“The film uses special effects to blend blood-drenched news clips with sheiks exhorting Arabs to martyrdom,” reported The Guardian. “It recounts a litany of Muslim humiliation around the world, and blames the west, specifically the US for its support of Israel.”
The military said that Al-Bahlul admitted to creating the films, but did not consider it to be a crime. He did not mount a defense during the trial, having called it a “legal farce” during a pretrial hearing.

His trial was the just the second war crimes trial to be held at Guantanamo Bay since the United States began using the military base to hold prisoners from the War on Terror in 2002. With presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain pledging to close the camp and President George W. Bush’s eight-year tenure ending Jan. 20, there is likely to be just one more trial to be held there.

Background: Guantanamo war crimes trials

Al-Bahlul is the second prisoner to be tried for war crimes at Guantanamo. In the first trial, former bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan was found not guilty on conspiracy charges and received just a five-and-a-half-year sentence. The trial was considered an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which had claimed that Guantanamo housed only the “worst of the worst.”

The Al-Bahlul decision was a considerably better result for the government, but it means little for the future of Guantanamo. Both presidential candidates have said that they will shut down the Guantanamo camp if elected, presumably leaving time for just one of the 255 remaining prisoners to be tried.

According to Associated Press writer David McFadden, retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, “said those cases will likely never be brought forward as war-crimes trials, known as military commissions, at Guantanamo Bay. He said trials could conceivably be held elsewhere, but the system would need to be fundamentally changed for that to happen.”

The only remaining scheduled trial involves Mohammed Jawad, who allegedly injured two U.S. soldiers with a grenade in 2002. He confessed to throwing the grenade after interrogators threatened to kill them, but his confession was thrown out by a U.S. judge Wednesday, who ruled that death threats constitute torture.

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