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Lawyers for alleged al Qaeda media director appeal conviction

[JURIST] Lawyers for alleged al Qaeda media director Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday appealed [brief, PDF] his conviction and life sentence [JURIST reports] for conspiring with al Qaeda, soliciting murder, and providing material support for terrorism. His Pentagon-appointed defense lawyers argued that his constitutional rights were violated because a supposed al Qaeda recruitment film he released is protected speech under the First Amendment. His lawyers argued:

The First Amendment ... bars the prosecution of political argument except in a few narrow circumstances, such as incitement. Here, no reasonable trier of fact could find that State of the Ummah rises to the level of incitement ... The record instead shows that State of the Ummah is exactly what the government contended it was – a political argument that provoked the very kind of debate and dissent that warrants its protection per se under the First Amendment. Additionally, it was incumbent upon the military judge to instruct the members on what speech is and is not criminal. This he did not do and the government exploited this fact to put Mr. al Bahlul's political beliefs on trial.

Al Bahlul's appeal was required under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF], and it is unclear [Miami Herald report] whether he authorized the appeal. Al Bahlul previously boycotted much of his trial proceedings. It is also unclear when and where the appeal will be heard because of proposed changes by the Obama administration.

Al Bahlul, a 39-year old Yemeni citizen, went on trial [JURIST report] at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] last October. He is alleged to have been Osama bin Laden's personal assistant and media secretary and was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in February 2008 with conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and attacks on civilians, and providing material support for terrorism. He is 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. Al Bahlul was the second detainee to go on trial at Guantanamo since the prison there opened in 2002 and is the only convicted criminal currently held at the facility.

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