The 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals court on Friday upheld the November 2005 conviction of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali for membership in a terrorist organization and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush.
However, the court overturned the defendant’s 30-year prison sentence, agreeing with prosecuting attorneys that it was unreasonably lenient. Abu Ali’s attorneys argued the confession obtained by Saudi Authorities was a result of torture. This accusation was rejected by the court.
Matthew Barakat (AP) writes:
Born in Houston, Abu Ali, 27, grew up in the Washington suburb of Falls Church and was valedictorian of a private Islamic high school. He joined al-Qaida after traveling to Saudi Arabia to attend college in 2002. As a member of a Medina-based al-Qaida cell, Abu Ali discussed numerous potential terrorist attacks, including a plan to assassinate Bush and a plan to establish a sleeper cell in the United States…
In addition to the questions about torture, the trial involved use of the rarely invoked “silent witness” rule. The rule involves the presentation of secret, classified evidence to the jury, but the evidence is never made public.
The case also involved an unprecedented level of cooperation with the Saudi government, and was the first time the kingdom allowed its internal security personnel to testify in an American court, Laufman said.
Defense lawyer Joshua Dratel said Friday he plans to appeal the rulings to the full 4th Circuit panel of judges. Mistakes at trial regarding secret evidence “are the kind of error that defies the notion of ‘harmless,'” Dratel said.
In its ruling, the court said the judge was correct in keeping the information out of public view but should have allowed Abu Ali himself to see it so he could discuss it with his lawyer. But the appellate court ruled that the error was essentially harmless.
In a related story, military commission hearings for alleged September 11 terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and three other Guantanamo detainees Thursday. While military tribunals are constitutional (see Ex Parte Quirin ), the specifics of the tribunal system established by the Bush administration has met stiff resistance. In 2006, the Court struck down an earlier system as unconstitutional and is making a ruling later this month on the rights of Guantanamo prisoners
Background on the defendants provided by the Chicago Tribune:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, proposed the concept to Osama bin Laden as early as 1996. He obtained approval and funding for the attacks from bin Laden, then oversaw the operation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Waleed bin Attash, better known as Khallad, is alleged to have administered an Al Qaeda training camp in Logar, Afghanistan, where two of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were trained. Bin Attash is an alleged Al Qaeda operative, believed to have been bin Laden’s bodyguard.
Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni, is alleged to have helped find flight schools for the hijackers, helped them enter the United States and assisted with the financing for the operation. He also is believed to be a lead operative for a foiled plot to crash aircraft into London’s Heathrow Airport.
Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, is alleged to have sent about $120,000 to the hijackers for their expenses and flight training, and helped nine of the hijackers travel to the United States. He is believed to have served as a key lieutenant to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan.
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, a Saudi, is alleged to have helped the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler’s checks and credit cards. Hawsawi testified as a witness in the trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, saying he had seen Moussaoui at an Al Qaeda guesthouse in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the first half of 2001.
American facilities at Guantanamo are presented by radical activists as a modern day version of the Soviet Gulag. A lawless jail cut off from the outside world. Yet more than 1,400 organizations (2,300 individuals) have visited the facility–including American and international media–since detainee operations began in January 2002. If you are a qualified reporter (Indymedia does not count) here is a list of civilian flights to GITMO.
Jurist: US military tribunal best venue for terror cases: AG Mukasey
Joint Task Force Guantanamo: Commissions Keep Protection, Justice of Accused as Focus
The Military Commissions Act defines an alien unlawful enemy combatant as:
“A person who has engaged in hostilities or has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or, its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces); or
A person who has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.”
Many protections for the accused are spelled out in the Military Commissions Act, including all accused being innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused may also view evidence that will be used against them, can choose whether or not to be present at their trial and testify, and may appeal rulings, even to the civilian court system.
Times Online: I want to be a martyr, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tells Guantanamo tribunal
WaPo: Accused Sept. 11 Plotter Has First Tribunal Hearing