Terrorism suspect reaches plea deal in Guantanamo trial
For Obama, first conviction at the detention center
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — One of the first terrorism suspects taken to Guantanamo Bay reached a plea deal yesterday with military prosecutors, giving President Obama’s administration its first conviction of a prisoner at the detention center, which it is struggling to close.
Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, who allegedly served as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, pleaded guilty to one count each of providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy at a hearing before a military judge, sparing him from additional counts at trial. Terms of the plea deal, including any limits on his sentence, were not disclosed.
Qosi — who has been held at Guantanamo since January 2002 — is scheduled to be sentenced by a panel of officers next month. Military legal authorities can reject the panel’s sentencing decision if it exceeds what was agreed upon as part of the plea deal, said Navy Captain David Iglesias, a spokesman for military commissions prosecutors.
The 50-year-old from Sudan faced a potential life sentence if convicted at trial. Iglesias declined to say how much more time, if any, the prisoner could serve under the agreement.
“Both sides reached an agreement that they felt was fair and it would be against the interests of justice not to accept it,’’ Iglesias said in a phone interview from the Navy base in southeast Cuba.
Defense lawyers declined to comment to reporters.
In addition to guarding bin Laden, Qosi was accused of acting as accountant, paymaster, supply chief, and cook for Al Qaeda during the 1990s, when the terror network was centered in Sudan and Afghanistan. He told the judge at his hearing that he acknowledged his offenses and he understood his plea deal, but he did not speak at length.
The military commissions at Guantanamo have been stalled for years by legal challenges and changes to the rules for prosecuting prisoners. Human rights groups say the system is still unfair and have said any prosecutions should be in civilian courts in the United States.
New York-based Human Rights First criticized the government for taking so long to resolve the case against a prisoner captured by US forces in December 2001. “This is not a victory for the military commission system,’’ said Daphne Eviatar, a senior associate in the group’s Law and Security Program. “In fact Mr. al Qosi’s case is a textbook example of the inability of the military commission system . . . to achieve swift justice.’’
Attorney General Eric Holder had designated Qosi in November as one of four detainees who would face trial before military commissions instead of civilian courts as the administration seeks to close the detention center where the United States now holds 181 prisoners.
Also yesterday, Germany agreed to take in two inmates cleared for release from Guantanamo.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the two prisoners have been in Guantanamo for nine years, but they do not face criminal charges. They are expected to arrive in Germany within a few weeks, he said.