Noor Uthman Mohammed pleads guilty to terror charges at military commissions

[JURIST] Sudanese Guantanamo Bay detainee Noor Uthman Mohammed pleaded guilty before a military tribunal Tuesday to terrorism charges. Mohammed entered guilty pleas to one count of providing material support of terrorism and one count of conspiracy. The charges against him stem from meetings with al Qaeda and his service as a weapons instructor and manager at the Khaden military camp in Afghanistan, where hijackers and other members of al Qaeda trained prior to the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed was charged in May 2008 and has been detained at Guantanamo since his capture in Pakistan in 2002. Prior to the plea agreement, the details of which have not been released, Mohammed faced life in prison if convicted of the charges against him. A jury, consisting of at least five US military officers will now be chosen to issue a sentence in the hearing, set to begin this week.

Navy lawyer says military broke plea deal pledge in Qosi case

The Miami Herald reports that the attorney for a former al Qaeda cook said that the government did not deliver on a promise that led him to plead guilty to supporting terrorism, and predicted that might discourage other Guantánamo captives from reaching deals with prosecutors.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan, 50, was removed from a communal-living compound over the weekend, and placed in more isolated confinement, despite a recommendation in the plea agreement that he stay, a Pentagon official said.

His defense attorney, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, said the move could make other detainees reluctant to accept plea deals.

Hamdan appeal to be heard by full US military commissions review court

[JURIST] The US Court of Military Commission Review will hear en banc an appeal by former Osama Bin Laden driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan according to media reports. The decision was revealed late Friday in a one-page order given to attorneys working on Hamdan’s case. Hamdan was convicted in August 2008 of providing material support for terrorism and sentenced to 66 months of imprisonment, but given credit for 60 months he already spent in US custody. Hamdan’s lawyers argue that at the time Hamdan was arrested in 2001, providing material support for terrorism was not a criminal act.

Military judge: Nobody tortured terror suspect Omar Khadr

The Miami Herald reports that an Army interrogator’s tale of gang rape in an American prison didn’t coerce Canadian captive Omar Khadr to confess to anything while he was held as a teen terror suspect in Afghanistan, a military commissions judge said in a Guantánamo war court ruling made public Friday.

Army Col. Patrick Parrish, the judge, also found “no credible evidence” of torture “even using a liberal interpretation considering the accused’s age” in the U.S. military’s interrogations of the Toronto-born Khadr, who was nearly dead when captured in a Special Forces raid on a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002. 

Defense attorneys argued that Khadr’s first interrogation, coupled with the rape scenario, so soon after U.S. medical forces saved him from chest wounds and eye injuries led the young Canadian to tell his captors whatever they wanted to hear.But Parrish wrote that “he had sufficient training, education and experience to understand the circumstances in which he found himself.” Rather than the rape story, the judge said, it was the military’s discovery of a videotape at the bombed out site of the July 2002 firefight that showed Khadr learning to make and plant landmines that got him to start offering incriminating statements.

Moreover, the veteran Army judge gave greater weight to the credibility of former and present U.S. military who testified at a pretrial hearing because they underwent “the crucible of cross-examination,” while Khadr chose to not allow prosecutors to question him on a sworn affidavit that alleged a long list of abuse.

US Supreme Court judge Kennedy favors civilian courts in terrorism cases

Kennedy addressed participants in the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference on Maui, where a panel discussion earlier this week reached a consensus in favor of using civilian courts instead of military commissions in most terrorism cases.

“Article III courts are quite capable of trying these terrorist cases,” Kennedy said, agreeing with the conclusion.

Kennedy also praised the hundreds of attorneys attending the four-day conference at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa for taking up “one of the most crucial, dangerous and disturbing issues of our time — terrorism.”

It was clear, he said, that an “attack on the rule of law has failed,” referring to the use of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects, often before panels in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Military commissions trials draw strong criticism

Loyola University Los Angeles law professor David Glazier told AFP that the decision to allow confessions made under duress by Canadian Omar Khadr “do nothing to help the credibly of the (military) commissions. “Decisions which err on the side of allowing disputed evidence into the trials will only serve to fuel that criticism and undermine public confidence in trial verdicts,” he added.

In the case against Osama bin Laden’s cook, Ibrahim al-Qosi, presiding military judge Nancy Paul announced Monday that the terms of a pre-trial plea deal with prosecutors would remain secret. “The secret pretrial agreement… is shocking. We are supposed to have open trials and open dockets, and the (US) administration has said it is committed to transparency. This is the polar opposite,” said Yale University military law professor Eugen Fidell.

In another court anomaly in the al-Qosi case, judge Paul was noticeably irritated when she discovered there were no written instructions on his conditions of imprisonment.

The plea agreement reportedly stipulates that Qosi can serve out his eventual sentence in Guantanamo’s Camp 4, where inmates live communally, but prison rules require convicted detainees to be isolated from other prisoners.

Officer rejected for military commissions jury in Khadr trial because he agrees with Obama

This week, a jury-like panel was assembled to hear the case of Omar Khadr. During examination, an Army lieutenant colonel who was being considered for the panel said he agreed with Obama’s view that the offshore prison has compromised American values and diminished America’s international standing.

“America seemed to lose its status as a beacon of freedom, liberty and justice” through its interrogation methods, secret prisons and extraordinary renditions, said the lieutenant colonel, who couldn’t be named under courtroom rules. “I don’t believe my position is any different from the president’s.”

The military judge, Col. Pat Parrish, refused to dismiss the officer, so prosecutor Jeff Groharing, a Justice Department attorney who started as the Khadr prosecutor in 2005 when he was a Marine major, used his single peremptory challenge to remove him from the commission.“ He said repeatedly he agrees with the president,” Groharing said.

In the meantime Omar Khadr’s lone defense attorney, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson,
collapsed in court Thursday and was taken away to a base hospital on a
stretcher, halting the first day of the Canadian’s war crimes trial. At best, Pentagon deputy chief defense counsel Broyles said, if the defender could be treated at this remote base, the trial could resume Monday. At worst, he said, Jackson would need to be airlifted to the United States — indefinitely delaying the first war crimes trial of the Obama administration.

US military jury recommends 14-year sentence for Al Qosi

A US military jury on Wednesday recommended a 14-year sentence for Sudanese Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi [DOD materials; JURIST news archive]. Al Qosi agreed to a plea deal Tuesday after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] to charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism in July. The details of the plea agreement will remain sealed until he is released from prison. The 10-member jury was not informed of the plea deal, and, if their suggested sentence exceeds that of the plea agreement, their recommendation will be set aside. Judge Nancy Paul also found that the US military had failed to develop plans [Guardian report] for the housing of convicted detainees during their sentence. She ruled that al Qosi will be allowed to remain at Camp 4, a facility at Guantanamo reserved for the best behaved detainees, until the military finds a place to house him for the remainder of his sentence. The plea deal originally urged the judge to recommend that al Qosi serve the entirety of his sentence at Camp 4, but Paul rejected this [AP report] because military rules forbid communal housing of convicts. Paul still found the plea deal to be valid because the Camp 4 provision was only a recommendation. The details of al Qosi’s sentencing will not be revealed until it is reviewed by Defense Department officials. Following the conviction, Human Right Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized the proceedings [LAT report] for the secrecy surrounding the plea deal. Before the agreement, al Qosi faced possible life imprisonment after pleading guilty to supporting al Qaeda [CFR backgrounder] in their hostilities against the US since 1996, acting as the group’s cook and accountant in the 1990s and as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden [CFR profile] in later years.

Officials have 60 days to determine where al-Qosi will serve his sentence.

U.S. lacks policy on housing detainees convicted in military commissions

The Defense Department has no written policy on how detainees convicted in military commissions should be housed after they are sentenced, despite a 2008 Pentagon directive to create a plan for such prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, a military judge said according to the Washington Post.

U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Stop Khadr Trial

Omar Khadr, the Canadian charged with crimes he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old, is set to be tried before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay beginning August 10.  Four months ago, Khadr’s lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act of 2009 with the D.C. Circuit Court.  The court has not acted on the petition. So, on Monday, August 2, Jackson filed an Emergency Motion with the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the trial from proceeding until the D.C. court acts.

Jackson argues that the system under which Khadr would be tried is unconstitutional because it is applied only to non-US citizens. He said, “The military commissions provide young Omar, a Canadian citizen, only second class justice. This kind of discrimination is something we cannot stand for as a country.”