Federal appeals court overturns two convictions of former al Qaeda media director

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Monday overturned two out of three convictions of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman Al Bahlul [HRW profile; JURIST news archive], the media secretary of Osama Bin Laden [WP obituary; JURIST news archive]. The court vacated Bahlul's convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes but did not overturn his conviction for conspiracy to commit terrorism, remanding that issue to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR) [official website]. A three-judge panel of the appeals court had ruled [JURIST report] last year that the military tribunal that convicted Bahlul of conspiracy in 2007 erred because a Guantanamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The court explained that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF] codified conspiracy as a war crime, but did not apply to crimes committed before the MCA was passed. The en banc court disagreed, ruling "that the 2006 MCA is unambiguous in its intent to authorize retroactive prosecution for the crimes enumerated in the statute—regardless of their pre-existing law-of-war status." Nonetheless, the court vacated the other two convictions, concluding that trying Bahlul by military commission for providing material support was "a plain ex post facto violation," and that "solicitation of others to commit war crimes is plainly not an offense traditionally triable by military commission." Monday's ruling could result in a reduction of Bahlul's life sentence.

The CMCR ruled in 2011 that Bahlul had been properly convicted of being a propagandist and should spend the rest of his life in prison [JURIST reports]. He previously boycotted much of his trial proceedings. Bahlul, a 39-year old Yemeni citizen, went on trial [JURIST report] at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] in 2008. He is alleged to have been bin Laden's personal assistant and media secretary and was charged in February 2008 with conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and attacks on civilians, and providing material support for terrorism. He was accused of researching the financial impact of the 9/11 attacks and also releasing the "martyr wills" of 9/11 hijackers Muhammed Atta and Ziad al Jarrah as propaganda videos. JURIST Guest Columnist Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] argued [JURIST comment] last year that even if the government's petition for en banc review had failed, it would nonetheless succeed in maintaining the political status quo of the Obama administration.

 

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