Terror verdict is tossed aside

Bin Laden worker wins on technicality

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WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden’s for­mer pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager shouldn’t have been tried by a mil­i­tary com­mis­sion for con­duct that wasn’t con­sid­ered a war crime be­fore 2006, the full U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Co­lum­bia said, up­hold­ing an ear­lier rul­ing of a three-judge panel.

The court threw out Ali Hamza Ah­mad Suli­man al Bahlul’s 2008 con­vic­tions on charges of so­lic­i­ta­tion for ter­ror­ism and pro­vid­ing ma­terial sup­port to ter­ror­ists be­fore the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, rul­ing that the Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sions Act of 2006 didn’t au­tho­rize ret­ro­ac­tive pros­e­cu­tion of be­hav­ior that pre­vi­ously wasn’t clas­si­fied as a war crime. Bahlul’s con­vic­tion for con­spir­acy was up­held up­held 6-1.

The rul­ing is the lat­est set­back for U.S. of­fi­cials seek­ing to try ter­ror sus­pects at the U.S. Naval base at Guan­tan­amo Bay, Cuba. In June, a mil­i­tary judge held a hear­ing on al­le­ga­tions by de­fense at­tor­neys for five Guan­tan­amo pris­on­ers ac­cused in the Sept. 11 at­tacks that the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion sought in­for­ma­tion on con­fi­den­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tions with their cli­ents. Be­fore that, hear­ings of the 9/​11 de­fen­dants have been plagued by in­nu­mer­a­ble de­lays, and no trial is in sight.

Last year, a panel of the ap­peals court dis­missed the 2008 mil­i­tary com­mis­sion con­vic­tion of bin Laden’s driver, Salim Ham­dan, for sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism. Bahlul’s con­vic­tions were also thrown out af­ter the Justice Depart­ment con­ceded that the charges couldn’t stand in the wake of the Ham­dan de­ci­sion. In April 2013, the gov­ern­ment asked for a full-court re­view of the dis­miss­als and ar­gued its case in Sep­tem­ber.

Bahlul and Mr. Ham­dan were cap­tured a month apart in 2001 and sent to Guan­tan­amo. Bahlul served as bin Laden’s per­sonal sec­re­tary for pub­lic re­la­tions, which in­cluded ad­min­is­ter­ing oaths of al­le­giance and pro­duc­ing pro­pa­ganda seek­ing to re­cruit al-Qaida mem­bers.

The court on Mon­day reached the same con­clu­sion as the pre­vi­ous ap­peals panel did re­gard­ing Mr. Ham­dan’s sup­port charge. While the court up­held Bahlul’s con­vic­tion for con­spir­acy, say­ing the stat­ute gov­ern­ing that crime ex­isted in fed­eral law be­fore 2006, the judges dif­fered on how to dis­pense with the case. The ma­jor­ity agreed to send the case back to the orig­i­nal panel for a rul­ing on re­sid­ual is­sues.

“Bahlul’s ap­peal has been be­fore this court nearly three years, and the court’s de­ci­sion en­sures it will re­main here at least an­other term,” Cir­cuit Court Judge Jan­ice Rogers Brown said in an opin­ion that dis­sented in part. She wrote that the case should be re­manded to the Court of Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sions Review to ad­dress the con­se­quences of the ap­peals de­ci­sion on Bahlul’s life sen­tence.

The rul­ing leaves un­cer­tain the fu­ture of mil­i­tary com­mis­sions, the Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights, a le­gal non­profit, said Mon­day in a state­ment.


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