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Federal appeals court overturns conviction of former al Qaeda media director

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday struck down [opinion, PDF] the conspiracy conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman Al Bahlul [HRW profile; JURIST news archive], the media secretary for Osama bin Laden [JURIST news archive], in a 2-1 decision. The court ruled [Miami Herald report] that conspiracy was not a war crime for which Bahlul could be tried by a military commission. The appeals court found that Congress does not possess the constitutional authority to add conspiracy to the internationally recognized war crimes list that may be tried by military commission. In reacting to the decision, experts have stated that only the trial for the September 11 attacks will pass basic tests of constitutionality. Guantanamo Bay defense lawyer Commander Brian Mizer said [Telegraph report] that it meant that the DC Circuit court was telling the US that it "is obliged to comply with international law as a matter of [its] own constitution and the rule of international law," no longer allowing the country to ignore international law in how it detains and interrogates people. It is not yet clear whether the government will appeal to the US Supreme Court.

The DC Circuit in July overturned [JURIST report] Bahlul's convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes. It did not overturn his conviction for conspiracy to commit terrorism, remanding that issue to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR) [official website]. A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled [JURIST report] the prior year that the military tribunal that convicted Bahlul in 2007 erred because a Guantanamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The CMCR ruled in 2011 that Bahlul had been properly convicted of being a propagandist and should spend the rest of his life in prison [JURIST reports]. Bahlul, a Yemeni citizen, went on trial at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] in 2008. He was 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.

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