A Pentagon-produced movie about al-Qaida had its premiere Monday at the first Guantanamo war crimes trial — shown to an audience of military jurors hearing evidence against a former driver for Osama bin Laden.
"The Al-Qaida Plan," is a 90-minute documentary that traces the origins and goals of the terrorist group, highlighting such milestones as the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the Sept. 11 attacks.
The star, if he could be called that, is bin Laden himself: He is shown firing rifles, giving news conferences from caves and rallying followers as the film traces his movements from Afghanistan, to Sudan and back.
It quotes declarations such as his August 1996 statement that "it is a duty now upon every tribe" in the Arabian peninsula to kill American soldiers.
The title of the al-Qaida video is a tribute to "The Nazi Plan," a film the U.S. used to help convict German officers during the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II, said Evan Kohlmann, a consultant and terrorism expert hired to create the new video for use at the Guantanamo tribunals.
Video part of the evidence
Prosecutors said they are showing the video to underscore that Salim Hamdan was part of a broader plan to attack the U.S. and its allies, even if he played only a small role as bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan.
"He is part of an overarching conspiracy," said Clayton Trivett, a civilian prosecutor from the Defense Department. "Whether he knew the specifics of the attacks or not, he knew Americans were going to be killed."
Hamdan's attorneys criticized the video as an inflammatory appeal to jurors' emotions.
The deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo tribunals, Michael Berrigan, said it will provide grounds for an appeal if Hamdan is convicted.
"You have planes repeatedly flying into buildings, you have explosions that are being cycled through again and again," Berrigan told reporters. "I think it's pretty obvious why a lot of that is prejudicial."
The film, which introduces some segments with Middle Eastern music, shows familiar footage of hooded fighters training on a jungle-gym-like apparatus at an al-Qaida camp and gruesome images of people killed in the East Africa embassy bombings.
Video will be shown at other trials
The tribunals' chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said he plans to show the film at war crimes trials of other detainees.
Military prosecutors have charged 21 prisoners at this U.S. base and plans trials for about 80. The latest charges were announced Monday against an Afghan detainee, Abdul Ghani, who is accused of firing rockets at a coalition military base in Afghanistan.
Also Monday, the Pentagon announced the transfer of three prisoners out of Guantanamo — one each to Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. It said roughly 265 inmates remain at the isolated military prison.
Hamdan is charged with conspiracy and aiding terrorism and faces up to life in prison if convicted in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II.
His lawyers say he was just a minor employee with no significant role in any attacks and they asked the judge not to allow the al-Qaida video to be shown to the jury.
The judge initially refused to allow a video section on the Sept. 11 attacks that he said would be "prejudicial," but he later reversed the decision. The jurors watched as the hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers and the buildings crumbled amid the screaming of bystanders.