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Gitmo Conviction Upheld Against Osama bin Laden's Media Secretary

By George Khoury, Esq. on October 26, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While Osama bin Laden is dead, his media secretary, Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul, who made propaganda videos, as well as filmed the wills for 9/11 hijackers, just had his 2008 conviction upheld in the DC Appeals Court. Although he had been detained in Guantanamo Bay, then tried and convicted in a military court for conspiracy years ago, his attorney is still fighting the conviction.

Although it is not disputed that the media secretary helped Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, what is disputed is the propriety of the conspiracy charge brought against him. The media secretary was convicted of conspiracy, which technically is not a war crime, which arguably means that the enemy combatant should have been tried in a regular federal court rather than by a military court. The DC Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the conviction.

Judges Concur but Don't Agree

Although a majority of the judges sitting on the Federal DC Appeals Court concurred in the result, they each had different reasons. At the end of the day, it seems that most of the judges agreed that the military court does have the authority to try enemy combatants for non-war-crime crimes that are still related to the war.

The judges did not arrive at this decision rashly. The appeal was argued nearly a year ago, and the decision was just reached this past Thursday. The DC Appeals Court has had to wrestle with the issue of how far the military courts can reach before, however, this decision is rather unique. Part of the uniqueness comes from the emotional component that the judges are surely grappling with: the defendant was part of the 9/11 terror plot which caused so much grief throughout the nation. Another unique aspect is that the challenge is procedural, or technical, in nature.

Uncertain Appellate Decision Ripe for SCOTUS

When a defendant doesn't agree with the ruling of a Federal Appeals Court, the next step is asking for the Supreme Court to review the case, which is surely the next step in this case as the appeals court's decision here is wrought with indecisiveness. The Supreme Court will likely be asked to weigh in about whether there are clear boundaries between what a military court can prosecute and what should be left for the federal courts.

Whether the Supreme Court will actually take the matter up is wholly different question, however, as the appeals court's decision allows the military courts to have more power to prosecute by allowing conspiracy and other non-war-crime charges to be brought against detainees.

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