Al Qaeda Suspects Will Face Tribunals

Article excerpt

Byline: Guy Taylor, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

One man accused of smuggling weapons and moving money for al Qaeda and another accused of serving as a propagandist for the terrorist network will be tried in the first U.S. military tribunals since World War II.

Sulayman al-Bahlul of Yemen and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi of Sudan, who both also are accused of serving as bodyguards for al Qaeda ringleader Osama bin Laden, are "charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes," U.S. military officials said yesterday.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. John Smith said military prosecutors did not plan to seek the death penalty against either man, but said they could face sentences of up to life in prison.

The two men are among the six persons whom President Bush named in July as eligible for trials before the tribunals, formally called military commissions.

One defense official cautioned that the men still are presumed innocent.

"It's equally possible that they could be exonerated," the official said of Mr. al-Bahlul and Mr. al-Qosi, who are the first individuals to be charged among the more than 600 foreign nationals held at the U.S. prison for terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

The military tribunals for the suspects, whom the Bush administration refers to as "enemy combatants," has emerged as one of the more contentious issues in the war on terror.

The defense official said the tribunals will involve a panel of seven uniformed military officials at Guantanamo.

According to indictments unsealed at the Pentagon yesterday, Mr. al-Bahlul and Mr. al-Qosi completed training at al Qaeda sponsored camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, with Mr. al-Qosi being named "an accountant" for the network in several Middle Eastern countries as early as 1991.

The Pentagon said in its announcement yesterday that trial dates and panel members will be selected later.

The Pentagon said Mr. al-Bahlul went through terrorist training in late 1999 and was "personally assigned by bin Laden to work in the al Qaeda media office," creating several instructional and motivational recruiting videos to inspire violent attacks against the militaries and civilians of the United States and other countries.

His indictment maintains that he worked closely with bin Laden from late 1999 through December 2001, first working out of an al Qaeda-sponsored guesthouse in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar and, after September 11, 2001, serving as a bin Laden bodyguard.

Often traveling in a caravan of vehicles with the terrorist leader, "al-Bahlul was armed and wore an explosives-laden belt," according to the indictment, which also says at one point, bin Laden personally told Mr. al-Bahlul to create a video glorifying the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in a Yemen harbor.

Mr. al-Qosi's indictment is longer because the Pentagon thinks his involvement with al Qaeda spans from 1989, when he is suspected of becoming a member in Sudan during the network's formative stages, through his capture in Afghanistan in 2001.

Military officials previously have said suspects held at Guantanamo Bay were arrested during U.S. military operations in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. The fact that Mr. …