Guantanamo Bay Naval Base: A Guantanamo jury recommended a 14-year sentence on Wednesday for an al Qaeda cook, though he could be released much sooner under a plea bargain that will limit the time he spends in prison.
Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi of Sudan pleaded guilty last month to supporting terrorism, making him only the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be convicted since the prison, which has held nearly 800 men, was opened in 2002.
The jury of 10 US military officers was not told about the sentence limit in the plea agreement. If it is less than 14 years, the jury`s sentence will only be applied if al-Qosi does something to break the deal, said Navy Capt David Iglesias, a spokesman for military prosecutors.
Military officials say al-Qosi`s actual sentence will not be revealed publicly until it is reviewed by a Pentagon official known as the tribunals` convening authority, a process that could take several weeks.
Critics said the case`s handling dashed hopes that the offshore tribunal system would be more transparent under President Barack Obama.
"To find out that the first conviction under the Obama administration is accompanied by a secret plea agreement, coupled with a dummy sentence, it`s really troubling," said Andrea Prasow, a lawyer observing the hearings for Human Rights Watch. "I think this proceeding was a farce."
It is not yet clear where al-Qosi might be held. Judge Nancy Paul, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, said on Wednesday that officials would have 60 days after sentencing to determine that.
She told jurors they could sentence al-Qosi to between 12 and 15 years in prison — a range that is reportedly well above the terms of the plea bargain. She said the detainee would not receive credit for the eight years and seven months he already has spent in confinement.
Iglesias said the recommended sentencing range was determined in discussions between attorneys for al-Qosi and the convening authority, retired Vice Adm Bruce MacDonald, a former Navy judge advocate general with broad powers over the system for prosecuting terror suspects.
As part of the plea agreement, the 50-year-old detainee signed a statement declaring that he followed Osama bin Laden after the al Qaeda leader`s expulsion from Sudan in 1996 and continued working for him in Afghanistan.
Al-Qosi said he learned after they occurred that al Qaeda was behind the US embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998 and the 9/11 attack on the US, but he was not involved in their planning.
He was arrested in Pakistan after fleeing the al Qaeda hideout at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, during the US-led invasion. He was among the first prisoners taken to Guantanamo.
The only witness for the prosecution at Wednesday`s sentencing hearing, al Qaeda expert Robert McFadden, testified that only the most loyal followers of bin Laden would be allowed close enough to become a cook or driver.
"Trust is the major factor," said McFadden, an agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
In a closing prosecution statement to jurors, Marine Capt Seamus Quinn said it is the support of people like al-Qosi that make al Qaeda possible.
"It would be an insult to Mr al-Qosi and to our intelligence to think he was nothing more than running bin Laden`s kitchen," said Quinn, who urged the panel to impose a 15-year sentence.
Defence attorneys presented videotapes of interviews with al-Qosi`s relatives. The man`s father, Ahmed al-Qosi, said his son socialised with Christians as a youth at an Italian school and said that "our spirits would be much happier" if he is returned to Sudan.
A defence lawyer, Army Maj Todd Pierce, said that upon repatriation al-Qosi would enter a rehabilitation program run by Sudan`s intelligence service that assigns extremists to moderate mosques and employs informants to track their behaviour. He said the program is 85 percent effective and none of the nine men sent back to Sudan from Guantanamo have engaged in hostilities against the United States.
Al-Qosi`s lawyers said he was little more than a menial worker to al Qaeda`s senior leadership.
Al-Qosi avoided a possible life sentence at trial by pleading guilty on July 07 to one count each of providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy.
The Arabic-language news channel al Arabiya, citing two unidentified sources, reported recently that the secret agreement calls for al-Qosi to serve an additional two years at most and return to Sudan afterward.