By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Monday partially overturned the Guantanamo war crimes conviction of an al Qaeda publicist, saying a military commission lacked authority to convict him on two of three charges.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the conviction of Yemeni prisoner Ali Hamza al Bahlul for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes. It upheld his conviction for conspiracy to commit war crimes.
"The Government offers little domestic precedent to support the notion that material support or a sufficiently analogous offense has historically been triable by a military commission," Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote.
Bahlul acted as a publicist for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, making recruiting videos and taping the wills of some of the hijackers who slammed commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.
Three months after the attacks, Bahlul was captured in Pakistan and transferred to the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. A military commission later convicted him of all three crimes and sentenced him to life in prison at the detention center there.
The court on Monday also ruled that the solicitation charge against Bahlul "is plainly not an offense traditionally triable by military commission." That charge was based on a violent video Bahlul made encouraging attacks on U.S. targets.
"While we are still reviewing the decision, we are pleased that the Court rejected Bahlul's challenge to his conviction for conspiracy to commit war crimes," Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said in an email.
Bahlul's attorney could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Jane Sutton contributed reporting.)