For Immediate Release: February 15, 2011
Washington, DC – Today, Noor Uthman Muhammed, a Sudanese man held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for nine years, pled guilty to conspiracy and material support based on allegations that he trained terrorists prior to 9/11.
Muhammed is only the sixth Guantanamo detainee to plead guilty or be convicted by jury at the Guantanamo Bay prison. There were originally 779 men imprisoned at Guantanamo. Today, only 172 remain. The vast majority of men once held there have been cleared of wrongdoing and sent back home or resettled in another country.
Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn said, “Congress has set up a perverse system at Guantanamo where almost the only way one can get out of here is to cop a plea or die.”
In December 2010, Congress restricted the use of defense funds to transfer Guantanamo prisoners to the United States to stand trial for charged crimes. Congress also restricted the transfer of men who have been cleared for release back home or to other countries for resettlement, absent a court order. Earlier this month, another Guantanamo detainee – Awul Gul – died of an apparent heart attack.
Osburn noted, “It may be in the best interest of some detainees to cop a plea because Congress has blocked their day in court and the commissions have proven again and again to be constitutionally insufficient leading to further delays.”
According to Human Rights First, it is unclear whether a military commission could exert jurisdiction over Noor for crimes that the government says he committed. Most of the criminal acts Noor allegedly committed took place from the mid-1990’s to 2000, before the United States was at war with anyone. Additionally, the crimes Noor allegedly committed – material support of terrorism and conspiracy – are not traditional law of war violations typically tried in military commissions. Attempts by Congress to codify material support and conspiracy as war crimes may very well be seen as imposing ex post facto punishment, with military commissions serving as a venue for trying individuals like Noor for “war crimes” that simply didn’t exist at the time these alleged unlawful acts took place.
Following today’s announcement, The Miami Herald reported that, “Military sources said the deal could send Noor home by January 2015, even though the jury can sentence him to a maximum of life in prison.” A military jury will be chosen tomorrow to determine a sentence, which will be relevant only if the sentence is lighter than the one in the plea bargain.
In two recent cases, though, the prisoner pled to a light sentence. It was revealed this past week that Ibrahim Al Qosi, a cook and driver for Osama bin Laden, was sentenced to only two years for material support for terrorism. Omar Khadr pled guilty to eight years in prison including time served and is likely to be released to Canadian authorities within one year.
There are no other prisoners currently awaiting trial before commission.
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