Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, a native of Yemen, was one of six men designated for trial by military commission in July 2003.
Charges were formally referred against al Bahlul in June 2004, and a preliminary hearing began the week of August 23, 2004. But the case came to a standstill following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (2006), which held that the President had exceeded his authority in establishing the military commissions. The Court also ruled that the commissions violated U.S. military law and the Geneva Conventions.
In response to Hamdan, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (“MCA”), which established new military commission procedures. New charges were sworn against al Bahlul pursuant to the MCA on February 8, 2008. The charges included conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder of protected persons; attacking civilian objects; murder in violation of the law of war; destruction of property in violation of the law of war; terrorism; and providing material support for terrorism.
The new charges reiterate the original allegations that al Bahlul traveled to Afghanistan in February 1999 to receive training at an al Qaeda camp, and prepared and assisted in the preparation of various propaganda videos designed to recruit and indoctrinate members into al Qaeda. The government additionally contends in the revised charges that al Bahlul researched the economic effects of the September 11 attacks on the United States, served as Osama bin Laden’s personal and media director, and maintained media communications equipment on behalf of senior al Qaeda members.
Charges were referred against al Bahlul for the second time on February 26, 2008.
Al Bahlul’s arraignment was held in May 2008. At the hearing, al Bahlul announced that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the court and that he intended to boycott the proceedings. He also rejected his lawyers, refused to enter a plea or otherwise represent himself, and said that he would not dispute any of the charges brought against him.
Al Bahlul appeared for a pretrial hearing on August 15, 2008. During the hearing, he asked Air Force Col. Ronald Gregory, a new military judge presiding over his case, to allow him to return to his cell, saying that he only wished to return to the court for sentencing. Al Bahlul also requested that Judge Gregory withdraw his habeas petition from federal court and grant him a speedy military commission trial. Al Bahlul prohibited his Pentagon-appointed attorney, Air Force Reserve Major David Frakt, from doing any work on his behalf. Frakt waived all pretrial motions and said that he would not request any additional discovery documents.
Al Bahlul appeared for another hearing on September 24, 2008. He entered a not guilty plea to conspiring with al Qaeda. He said that he would attend his trial, but he again prohibited Frakt from mounting a defense on his behalf.
On November 3, 2008, al Bahlul was convicted to life in prison on terrorism charges. During his week-long military commission trial, al-Bahlul refused to participate.
In January 2013, al Bahlul’s conviction was overturned due to the retrospective nature of the charges. Because al Bahlul’s actions were not considered illegal under international law at the time they were committed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit reversed the decision. A federal appeals court is currently examining the circuit court’s decision. Al Bahlul remains detained at Guantanamo.
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