Jury convicts Yemeni in 2nd Guantanamo trial

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) - November 3, 2008

A propagandist for Osama bin Laden who vowed to fight anyone who governs America faced a possible life sentence after being convicted Monday of making videos that encouraged al-Qaida members to commit terrorist attacks.

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was found guilty of 35 counts of conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and providing material support to terrorism.

The 39-year-old Yemeni sat calmly and showed no emotion as the verdict was read, but later defiantly admitted being a member of al-Qaida and said the U.S. had oppressed Muslims for 50 years.

"We will fight any government that governs America," he told the military jurors at his sentencing hearing. "We are the only ones on Earth who stand against you."

He also said the U.S. had only itself to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks - "Whoever said this happened out of nowhere is an idiot," he said. "You have started the war against us."

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.

The father of a sailor killed in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole - which was featured in a video the military says al-Bahlul produced to train and inspire al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan - testified against him at the sentencing hearing.

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 has been 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."

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. 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, but doesn't consider his actions criminal.

Calling the military tribunal a "legal farce," he refused to mount a defense and his Pentagon-appointed lawyer stayed silent during the trial, refusing to even answer questions from the judge.

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