Video: Hunting for bin Laden

updated 2/24/2004 3:05:40 PM ET 2004-02-24T20:05:40

Two men alleged to have been bodyguards and aides for Osama bin Laden have been charged with war crimes and will stand trial before the first U.S. military tribunals convened since World War II, officials announced Tuesday.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, of Sudan, was a paymaster for al-Qaida, and Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, of Yemen, was a propagandist for bin Laden, the government charged in military indictments unsealed at the Pentagon.

The two men are among more than 600 foreign prisoners held at the U.S. Navy's Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba. According to the indictments, both spent time in terrorist training camps and served as bodyguards for bin Laden.

Although President Bush has authorized the death penalty for suspects convicted by military tribunals, prosecutors will not seek it for the two suspects charged Tuesday, the Pentagon said. The two face a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

Tribunals likely to take place at Guantanamo Bay
The military tribunals are expected to take place at Guantanamo Bay, though it was not immediately clear when the proceedings would begin.

Both suspects are charged with conspiring with al-Qaida to commit murder and attacks on civilians and civilian targets and to commit terrorism, although that term is not further defined.

The documents provide no documentation for claims that the men were terrorist conspirators, and do not detail how or where they were captured.

The documents list several terrorist crimes attributed to al-Qaida, including the Sept. 11 2001 terror attacks, the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the Navy warship USS Cole.

But they do not allege the two men played any specific role in planning for or carrying out those attacks.

Al Qosi joined al-Qaida in 1989 and remained a member until his capture in December 2001, the indictment said. He traveled with bin Laden, serving as a driver and quartermaster, and also worked as an accountant and treasurer for a business intended to provide income and cover for al-Qaida terror operations, the indictment said.

Role as al-Qaida paymaster alleged
Among other activities, al Qosi signed checks on behalf of bin Laden, exchanged money on the black market and sent money by courier on behalf of al-Qaida, the indictment said.

Bin Laden personally assigned al Bahlul to work in the al-Qaida "media office," where he created videotapes used to motivate al-Qaida members and recruit new terror soldiers, the indictment alleged.

Military tribunals are traditionally used to try alleged war criminals, such as Nazi leaders after World War II. They are similar to military trials known as courts-martial but share some features of ordinary civilian trials as well.

Suspects are entitled to defense lawyers and to put on a vigorous defense. Rules of evidence are more favorable to the government, however, and the Guantanamo tribunal suspects will have only limited rights to appeal convictions.

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