Guantanamo prisoner from Sudan admits guilt in 1st conviction under Obama administration

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

US reaches plea deal at Guantanamo military trial

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — One of the first terrorism suspects taken to Guantanamo Bay reached a plea deal Wednesday with military prosecutors, giving President Barack Obama’s administration its first conviction of a prisoner at the detention center in Cuba that it is struggling to close.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi pleaded guilty to one count each of providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy at a hearing before a military judge, sparing him from additional counts at trial.

Terms of the plea deal, including any limits on his sentence, were not publicly disclosed.

Al-Qosi — who has been held at Guantanamo since January 2002 — is scheduled to be sentenced by a panel of officers in August. Military legal authorities can reject the panel’s sentencing decision if it exceeds what was agreed upon as part of the plea deal, said Navy Capt. David Iglesias, a spokesman for military commissions prosecutors.

The 50-year-old from Sudan faced a potential life sentence if convicted at trial. Iglesias declined to say how much more time, if any, the prisoner could serve under the agreement.

“Both sides reached an agreement that they felt was fair and it would be against the interests of justice not to accept it,” Iglesias said in a phone interview from the Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Defense lawyers declined to comment to reporters.

Al-Qosi was accused of acting as accountant, paymaster, supply chief and cook for al-Qaida during the 1990s when the terror network was centered in Sudan and Afghanistan. He allegedly worked later as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. He told the judge at his hearing that he acknowledged his offenses and he understood his plea deal but did not speak at length.

The military commissions at Guantanamo have been stalled for years by legal challenges and changes to the rules for prosecuting prisoners. Human rights groups say the system is still unfair and have said any prosecutions should be in civilian courts in the United States.

“Unfortunately, the legitimacy of this conviction and any other conviction in the flawed military commissions will always be in question,” said Jamil Dakwar, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who observed the hearing. “Even with recent improvements, the military commissions remain incapable of delivering outcomes we can trust.”

New York-based Human Rights First criticized the government for taking so long to resolve the case against a prisoner captured by U.S. forces in December 2001. The military commissions have been stalled by legal challenges and changes to the rules.

“This is not a victory for the military commission system,” said Daphne Eviatar, a senior associate in the group’s Law and Security Program. “In fact Mr. al Qosi’s case is a textbook example of the inability of the military commission system … to achieve swift justice. The case has dragged on for more than six years without a trial.”

Attorney General Eric Holder had designated al-Qosi in November as one of four detainees who would face trial before military commissions instead of civilian courts as the administration seeks to close the detention center where the U.S. now holds 181 prisoners.

The first Guantanamo military trial is scheduled to start Aug. 10 for Omar Khadr, a Canadian accused of killing an American soldier with a grenade.

Obama had pledged shortly after his inauguration in January 2009 to close the prison — though not the base on Cuban territory — within a year. But the effort has stalled because Congress will not agree to moving prisoners to the U.S. to face trial or continued detention.

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