Al-Qaeda Operative

WASHINGTON - A Yemeni national who allegedly served as an al-Qaeda propagandist was sentenced to life in prison yesterday after a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found him guilty of terrorism.

Commander Jeffrey Gordon confirmed the life sentence was handed down against Ali Hamza Ahmad al-Bahlul, a Yemeni national who prosecutors said was an aide and media secretary for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The 39-year-old was convicted by a military panel on charges of conspiracy, solicitation to murder and terrorist acts, and providing material support for terrorism, the Pentagon said.

A panel of military officers handed down the guilty verdict on Friday, but it was sealed until yesterday, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Bahlul's trial was the second of a "war on terror" detainee at Guantanamo Bay under a specially created system of military commissions that has been criticized by civil rights activists and lawyers as lacking full protection of defendants' rights.

The man boycotted the proceedings and, on his instructions, his court-appointed military lawyer remained silent throughout the proceedings, said Jamil Dakwar, who observed the trial for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Unfortunately, because the system is fundamentally flawed and lacks any semblance of due process, a cloud of illegitimacy hangs over this verdict," Mr. Dakwar said.

"The next president should close Guantanamo, and future prosecutions should occur in criminal or military courts where the Constitution still means something and where verdicts, no matter what they are, can be trusted."

In the first such trial in August, military jurors found bin Laden's former driver Salim Hamdan guilty of providing material support to terrorism, but rejected stronger terrorist conspiracy charges.

Hamdan was sentenced to a net of five more months in jail, after considering the years he already spent in U. S. custody.

The Pentagon said Bahlul's case will be automatically reviewed by

the Pentagon official overseeing the trials, and then by a court of military commission review.

He can then appeal the verdict to the U. S. Court of Appeals and the U. S. Supreme Court.

The U. S. military alleged Bahlul was bin Laden's personal secretary and his media secretary.

It charged he underwent military training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, swore allegiance to bin Laden and helped produce numerous propaganda videos.

They allegedly included a video entitled The destruction of the American destroyer USS Cole, depicting the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing attack on the U. S. naval ship in Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed.

According to the charges, the video aimed "to solicit material support for al-Qaeda, to recruit and indoctrinate personnel to the organization and objectives of al-Qaeda and to solicit, incite and advise persons to commit terrorism."

Bahlul was also accused of preparing the video of the last "martyr wills" of Mohammed Atta, leader of the 19-man team that hijacked four passenger jets to crash them into U. S. buildings on Sept. 11, 2001.

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