A Yemeni detainee made videos glorifying al-Qaida's attacks to lure new recruits and was so close to Osama bin Laden the two were holed up together in an Afghanistan hideout on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks, a military prosecutor said Tuesday.
One of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul's videos depicted the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and was shown at terrorist training camps in Afghanistan to inspire recruits, Army Maj. Daniel Cowhig, lead prosecutor in the second Guantanamo war crimes trial, said in opening statements.
"The primary role of the accused was to grow the organization. One of the primary ways of doing that was through media," Cowhig told the jury of nine U.S. military officers.
Al-Bahlul, who is boycotting the trial, sat silently without offering any defense as prosecutors launched their case. His Pentagon-appointed attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, has joined his client's protest and refused to answer questions from the judge. He gave no opening argument and did not question witnesses.
Claims the tribunals are 'legal farce'
The 39-year-old prisoner, slender and with a close-cropped beard, has not denied his allegiance to bin Laden, but he has dismissed the military tribunals as a "legal farce." He appeared to closely follow testimony from the defense table even though he rejected translation headphones.
Al-Bahlul has been held at this U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba since 2002 and faces a maximum life sentence if convicted on charges of conspiracy, supporting terrorism and solicitation to commit murder.
In addition to creating the video about the Cole attack that killed 17 American sailors, al-Bahlul is accused of serving as a bin Laden bodyguard and arranging for lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to swear a loyalty oath to the al-Qaida chief.
Al-Bahlul was so close to bin Laden that he hooked up a satellite receiver so they could hear live radio coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as the pair huddled in Afghanistan's Khost province, Cowhig said.
As their first witness, prosecutors called FBI fingerprint expert Dee J. Fife, who said al-Bahlul's prints were found on several notebooks seized by U.S. agents in Afghanistan in 2000. Prosecutors say that evidence will illustrate the defendant's links to al-Qaida.
Cowhig also read jurors a letter in which al-Bahlul allegedly described his allegiance to the terror network. "I want you to pray for me to join ... the heroes of 9-11," Cowhig read.
In other testimony, a Guantanamo official whose identity was not disclosed said al-Bahlul tried to send incriminating notes to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, two prisoners charged with plotting the Sept. 11 attacks.
The letters were not read in open court. The judge, Air Force Col. Ronald Gregory, ordered that copies be turned over to jurors, and translations were later provided to reporters on Tuesday evening.
In a letter prosecutors said he addressed to Mohammed, al-Bahlul said: "The Americans have killed some of us and we have killed some of them. They have harmed us and we have harmed them, and they have captured some of us. I swear by Allah the almighty — I am not just saying this, we will act upon it — with Allah's will, we will capture some of them and will treat them the same way they treated us."'
The letter, which the military said was translated from Arabic to English, also said there was "repeated desecration of the Quran here in Cuba," among other allegations.
Military officials have repeatedly said that all troops at the prison are instructed to handle the Quran with respect and detainees at Guantanamo are treated humanely.
The trial is the second for the Pentagon's specially designed system for prosecuting alleged terrorists. The first — for bin Laden's former driver, Salim Hamdan — ended in August with a conviction and a 5 1/2-year sentence.
Eighteen Guantanamo prisoners are currently facing charges.