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Court Rejects New Sentencing for Al Qaeda Recruiter

A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a bid by a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo Bay to have a new military jury reconsider his life sentence for conspiring to commit war crimes as a propaganda chief for Al Qaeda and an aide to Osama bin Laden.

Earlier appeals struck down two of the three crimes for which Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was convicted in 2008. His lawyer, Michel Paradis, had argued that a new sentencing jury should be assembled at the base to hear evidence and arguments on whether his remaining conspiracy conviction deserved a lesser sentence.

Mr. Paradis also sought reconsideration of the sentence because, a year after Mr. Bahlul’s trial, Guantánamo’s military commission system was overhauled to explicitly prohibit the use of evidence “obtained by the use of torture or by cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the sentence should stand and that the prisoner’s lawyers brought up the question of torture too late in the appellate process.

Mr. Bahlul, 53, was tried in October and November of 2008 but did not allow his lawyer to offer a defense or question witnesses. He rejected the authority of the military commission system, which was established by President George W. Bush.

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was tried in October and November of 2008 but forbade his U.S. military lawyer to offer a defense or question witnesses.Credit…Department of Defense

At times he protested by waving a sign in Arabic that said “Boycott.” During sentencing, he waved a paper airplane when a prosecutor mentioned the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. At the mention of Al Qaeda’s suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000, he waved a paper boat he had made while sitting in court.

Evidence at the trial showed Mr. Bahlul admitted that he made an Al Qaeda recruiting video about the bombing of the Cole, helped two of the Sept. 11 hijackers prepare martyr wills for propaganda purposes, and, while on the move in Afghanistan, tried to operate a satellite receiver so Bin Laden could monitor broadcasts about the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Bahlul’s legal team is likely to seek full appellate court review before deciding whether to appeal to the Supreme Court. This is Mr. Bahlul’s sixth case before the civilian appeals court, including one in 2014 that overturned two other convictions on charges of providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes.

Mr. Bahlul is the only prisoner still at Guantánamo Bay who was brought before a tribunal during the George W. Bush administration, and the only one of the 30 prisoners held there serving a life sentence.

A United Nations human rights investigator who visited the prison this year mentioned Mr. Bahlul in a report that condemned conditions of the detention operation.

As the only convict at the prison, he is kept “in isolation, raising serious concerns of solitary confinement in contravention of international law,” according to the report by Fionnuala Ni Aolain, who is serving as the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights.

Ms. Ni Aolain said a prison policy letting him socialize with other detainees four hours a day has been implemented inconsistently and arbitrarily.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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