U.S. appeals court upholds al Qaeda publicist's conviction

October 20, 2016 10:22 AM EDT

In this courtroom illustration, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul appears before a military commission at Guantanamo Naval Base August 26, 2004 in Guantanamo, Cuba. REUTERS/Art Lien/POOL


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By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld the last remaining conviction of a Yemeni man prosecuted in an American military court at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in Cuba for serving as a publicist for al Qaeda.

A nine-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 6-3 against Ali Hamza al Bahlul, who made videos for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, according to the court decision. The court's conclusion was the opposite of the one by a three-judge panel in June 2015.

A ruling against the government could have limited its ability to prosecute people via special military tribunals for offenses not internationally recognized as war crimes.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion that if Bahlul had won, "the wartime decisions of Congress and the president to try unlawful enemy combatants before military commissions would be subject to the dictates of foreign nations and the international community."

The United States has used military commissions, first created during the administration of President George W. Bush, to put on trial a number of foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo for alleged war crimes rather than prosecuting them in regular military courts or civilian courts.

Bahlul recorded recruiting videos and taped the wills of some of the hijackers who flew commercial jetliners into New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

Three months after the attacks, Bahlul was captured in Pakistan and transferred to Guantanamo Bay. A military commission convicted him of three crimes and sentenced him to life in prison at the detention center there.

In July 2014, the appeals court threw out Bahlul's other convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)



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