US appeals court vacates conviction of al Qaeda media director News
US appeals court vacates conviction of al Qaeda media director
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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday vacated the conspiracy conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman Al Bahlul [HRW profile; JURIST news archive], the media secretary of Osama bin Laden [JURIST news archive]. The DC Circuit ruled [Miami Herald report] that the military tribunal that convicted Al Bahlul of conspiracy in 2007 erred because a Guantanamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The court explained that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF] codified conspiracy as a war crime, but did not apply to crimes committed before the MCA was passed. Al Bahlul was captured in 2001. The US has 90 days to appeal the DC Circuit’s decision to the US Supreme Court [official website].

Two weeks ago the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] asked the DC Circuit to reverse Al Bahlul’s conviction [JURIST report] because the court is bound by its decision last October to dismiss the case against bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. In September 2011 the US Court of Military Commission Review [official website] ruled in a 7-0 vote that Al Bahlul had been properly convicted of being a propagandist and should spend the rest of his life in prison [JURIST reports]. He previously boycotted much of his trial proceedings. Al Bahlul, a 39-year old Yemeni citizen, went on trial [JURIST report] at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] in 2008. He is alleged to have been Osama bin Laden’s personal assistant and media secretary and was charged 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.