WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court must reverse the military commission convictions in a terrorism case even though the Obama administration believes the convictions are consistent with the Constitution and federal law, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
The government said that overturning the convictions of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul is necessary because the appeals court is bound by a ruling last October throwing out the conviction of Osama bin Laden's former driver. The driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, served a prison term for material support for terrorism.
Preserving its appeal rights, the department said the legal rationale in the Hamdan ruling is incorrect and that the department intends to seek further review of the issue. The appeals court had asked the department for its opinion on how to reconcile the two cases.
Bahlul, who is from Yemen, was convicted of providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy and solicitation to commit war crimes.
In the Hamdan case, the appeals court ruled that before enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, only violations of the international law of war and pre-existing federal offenses were subject to trial by military commission. Hamdan's alleged material support for terrorism pre-dated the military commission law and was not a war crime under international law at the time Hamdan engaged in the activity for which he was convicted. In addition, the government acknowledged in the Hamdan case that neither conspiracy nor solicitation have attained international recognition.
Therefore, the Justice Department said Wednesday, the appeals court must reverse Bahlul's conspiracy and solicitation convictions, as well as the conviction for material support for terrorism. Bahlul helped al-Qaida produce propaganda and handled media relations for bin Laden.
The Justice Department told the appeals court that the Hamdan decision "cannot be squared with the plain language" of the law and Congress's stated purpose in enacting it.