WASHINGTON – The Pentagon brought war crimes conspiracy charges Tuesday against two men alleged to be associates of terror leader Osama bin Laden and said the will face the first U.S. military tribunals convened since World War II.
Government prosecutors ruled out seeking the death penalty against the two.
Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, of Sudan, was a paymaster for bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, and Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, of Yemen, was a propagandist for bin Laden, according to an official list of charges released by the Pentagon.
Neither is accused of assaulting Americans.
“These are not trigger men,” said Eugene Fidell of the National Institute of Military Justice. He is an attorney for James Yee, an Army chaplain accused of mishandling classified information from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center where more than 600 terror suspects are held.
Trial dates have not been set for al Qosi or al Bahlul. The two could face maximum sentences of life in prison if convicted.
The government had said previously it would not seek the death penalty against David Hicks of Australia, one of six Guantanamo Bay detainees whom President Bush said last July are subject to trial by military tribunal. Of the six, only al Qosi and al Bahlul have been charged.
The Pentagon’s decision not to seek the death penalty against al Qosi or al Bahlul “tells me that those making the decisions are alert to worldwide sensitivities,” Fidell said. “If they had sought the death penalty, there would have been a tremendous hostile response around the world.”
Charging papers released Tuesday assert the two men were war crimes conspirators but provide no documentation to support the claim. Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, said the charges are based on information obtained from intelligence and interrogations of the two suspects.
The specific acts that form the basis of the conspiracy charges against al Qosi and al Bahlul include:
_Participating in military training at al-Qaida sponsored camps in Afghanistan (news – web sites). Al Qosi is alleged to have trained there from late 1990 to early 1991 and al Bahlul for two months in 1999.
_Performing duties in support of al-Qaida. Al Qosi is alleged to have worked as an accountant for al-Qaida in Peshawar, Pakistan, starting in September 1991 and in a similar role in his native Sudan from 1992 through 1995 for a company set up to help finance al-Qaida activities.
_Promoting bin Laden and his cause of killing Americans. Al Bahlul is alleged to have created several instructional and motivational recruiting video tapes on behalf of al-Qaida; he also is alleged to have created a video “glorifying, among other things, the attack on the USS Cole,” the Navy destroyer severely damaged in October 2000 by explosives carried alongside the ship in a small boat. Seventeen sailors died. Al Qosi is alleged to have been a bin Laden bodyguard and driver from 1996 to December 2001.
Both men also are accused of helping bin Laden and other al-Qaida members evacuate from Kandahar, Afghanistan, after being “placed on alert” in the weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Al Qosi is said to have remained with and helped bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders before, during and after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the charge papers.
The papers, similar to indictments in the civilian court system, lay out more than a dozen “general allegations” that describe some of the history and structure of al-Qaida but do not mention either al Qosi or al Bahlul. They list terrorist acts attributed to al-Qaida, including the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings and attacks, the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa and the Cole bombing, but they do not allege the two men played any role in any of them.
The documents do not say how or where the men were captured or how long they have been at Guantanamo Bay.
William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, the human rights organization, said the announcement of conspiracy charges against the two men “confirms fears that (the Bush administration) seeks to operate unbound by due process.”
“These military tribunals fall short of the standard for fair trials, out of step with American values of justice and in violation of international law,” Schulz said. He called the tribunals an “incestuous process” ruled over by a small group in the executive branch at every stage.
Military tribunals, used during times of war, are similar to peacetime military trials known as courts-martial but share some features of civilian trials as well.
Suspects are entitled to defense lawyers and to put on a vigorous defense, although rules of evidence are more favorable to the government. All verdicts are subject to automatic review by a kind of appeals court known as a Military Commission Review Panel; the review panel’s members are civilians who are commissioned major generals in the Army during their term of service.