GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – An aide to Osama bin Laden who refused to defend himself at his Guantanamo war crimes trial was convicted of three terrorism-related charges and faced sentencing Monday that could bring life in prison.
The jury of military officers at the second Guantanamo war crimes trial voted to convict Ali Hamza al-Bahlul of 35 counts of conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and providing material support to terrorism.
The 39-year-old Yemeni showed no emotion, sitting calmly at the defense table as the verdict was read at the isolated U.S. military base in eastern Cuba following a lopsided weeklong trial in which the prisoner did not allow his lawyer to mount a defense.
Al-Bahlul was convicted of 17 counts of conspiracy, eight counts of solicitation to commit murder and 10 counts of providing material support for terrorism. Each count could bring life in prison.
The jury dismissed one count of conspiracy and one count of providing material support for terrorism.
Sentencing was to follow a post-trial hearing that included testimony from the father of a sailor killed in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole — which was featured in a video that the military says al-Bahlul produced to train and inspire al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan.
Gary Swenchonis Sr., whose son Gary was killed in the attack, said he was devastated by al-Bahlul's video and by the fact that it was widely available on the Internet.
"It's pervasive," said Swenchonis, of Rockport, Texas, his voice thick with emotion. "That's what's so bad. That's what's so wrong."
Breaking his boycott briefly, al-Bahlul told the judge, Air Force Col. Ronald Gregory, he would not make a statement before he is sentenced.
"Go ahead with your trial and I will continue with my boycott. You do whatever you want," al-Bahlul said through an Arabic translator. "You have orders from the politicians, and I will not accept it."
Al-Bahlul, who was brought to Guantanamo in 2002, is the second prisoner to go through a war crimes trial under the special military commissions system. The first, former bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan, was convicted in August and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison.
Prosecutors say al-Bahlul acknowledged to interrogators that he was al-Qaida's media chief and made propaganda videos for bin Laden. Al-Bahlul doesn't consider his actions criminal.
In a pretrial hearing, al-Bahlul called the military tribunal a "legal farce" and refused to mount a defense. His Pentagon-appointed lawyer stayed silent during the trial, refusing to even answer questions from the judge.