US court overturns al-Qaeda propagandist Ali Hamza's conviction

A US appeals court has overturned the war crimes conviction of an al-Qaeda propagandist, a ruling that could lead authorities to drop conspiracy charges against the five 9/11 plotters.

The US Court of Appeals in Washington yesterday threw out the conviction of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul on the basis that the charges he faced were not recognised as war crimes under international law when the events took place.

The Yemeni prisoner has been held at the US facility at Guantanamo Bay, where he was facing life in prison after being convicted in 2008 on charges of conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism and soliciting murder.

In October, the same court threw out the Guantanamo conviction of Osama bin Laden's driver Salim Hamdan on similar grounds.

It said a law that listed material support for terrorism as a war crime -- approved in 2006 in response to Hamdan's case -- could not apply to him retroactively.

Bahlul was alleged to have created propaganda videos for al-Qaeda in which attacks against the United States were glorified.

Following the Hamdan ruling and in anticipation of the decision in Bahlul's case, the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, Brigadier General Mark Martins, had asked the Pentagon authority overseeing the trial to drop the conspiracy charge against the men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks.

But the request was rejected by the Convening Authority that has oversight of the US military prison based in Cuba.

President Barack Obama's administration can appeal the latest ruling to the US Supreme Court or try Bahlul once more before a military commissions tribunal at Guantanamo.

James Connell, a defence lawyer for 9/11 defendant Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, said the decision was "important" because the court "held that conspiracy was not a war crime that can be tried by a military commission."

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