Court rulings dim outlook for Guantanamo trials



Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba): A civilian appeals court has now reversed the verdicts of the only two Guantanamo Bay prisoners convicted in trials by military tribunal, casting a shadow over proceedings set to resume this week at the US base in Cuba for the men accused in the September 11 terrorist attack.

A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the military commission conviction of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who was charged with providing material support to terrorism and conspiracy for making propaganda videos for al Qaeda. That followed the dismissal in October of the conviction of Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden.

Al-Bahlul and Hamdan were the only prisoners convicted in a trial by the tribunals known as a military commission. The five other convictions of Guantanamo prisoners came through plea bargains.

There are two pending death penalty cases at Guantanamo: one against a prisoner accused of orchestrating the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, the other against five men accused of planning and aiding the September 11 terrorist attacks. But the recent reversals have raised new questions about the use of military commissions in complex terrorism cases.

"The fact that no conviction can stand up on appeal does not bode well for the military commission system," said James Connell, a lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, a Pakistani who is one of the five charged in the September 11 attacks.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday overturned al-Bahlul's November 2008 conviction. In October, the court overturned Hamdan's August 2008 conviction. In both cases, the reasoning was the same.

PTI