GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE (CUBA): Osama bin Laden's former cook was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Wednesday in the first prison term handed down by a Guantanamo Bay court since President Barack Obama took office.
But Ibrahim al Qosi has already agreed a plea deal with prosecutors, the details of which remain secret, raising the possibility that he could serve a much shorter sentence, or be repatriated to Sudan.
The 10 member jury deliberated for just over an hour before handing down the sentence against the 51-year-old Qosi, who pled guilty in July to material support to terrorism.
The jurors were instructed to keep the sentence within a 12-15 year range, and told that the eight and a half years Qosi has spent at Guantanamo could be weighed during their deliberations, but would not count towards the final sentence.
"The prosecution and defense agreed on a range between 12 and 15 years. The jury will be instructed by the judge to stay in this range," David Iglesias, a spokesman for the military tribunals, told AFP.
In a second courtroom on Wednesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys for a second detainee, Canadian Omar Khadr, finished jury selection ahead of his war crimes trial. Seven military officers will hear evidence in the case against Khadr, who was just 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan, and is accused of throwing a grenade during a firefight that killed US Army medic in July 2002.
His lawyers have criticised the proceedings against him as the first prosecution of a child soldier "in modern history." Qosi's civilian lawyer on Wednesday called for leniency in sentencing against his client, citing the conditions at Guantanamo.
"We are not asking you to send him home now or to declare him innocent. He pleaded guilty," Reichler said. Guantanamo "is not like a prison in the United States. It's been eight and a half years without hearing, without seeing his wife, his mother, his father," Reichler added.
The sentencing phase of the trial comes despite the plea agreement between Qosi and government lawyers, which includes an agreed-upon sentence that remains secret. Scant details of the agreement emerged on Tuesday, when proceedings were temporarily suspended over questions about whether promises to Qosi could be kept.
The agreement reportedly stipulates that Qosi can serve out his eventual sentence in Guantanamo's Camp 4, where inmates live communally, but prison rules require convicted detainees to be isolated from other prisoners.
Military judge Nancy Paul called the discrepancy "troubling," and pointed out that the Pentagon official responsible for overseeing the trials is supposed to coordinate the conditions of a plea deal with prison authorities. But she said the failure to do so ahead of time "did not invalidate the pre-trial agreement."
"Confinement will be deferred for 60 days. There is still no guarantee but we have 60 days to work this issue," she said. In the meantime, she strongly recommended that Qosi be housed in Camp 4 since it was "a factor in Mr al Qosi's will to plead guilty."
The commander of the joint task force that runs the prison, Jeffrey Haberson, told reporters "Our policy right now, the DOD (Department of Defense) policy, is to keep convicted individuals physically separated from the general population of detainees."
Thus far, lawyers have not raised the possibility of repatriating Qosi, who was arrested in Pakistan in December 2001. He left his native Sudan in 1996 to join Bin Laden in Afghanistan and eventually became chef, assistant and occasional driver to the al Qaeda leader.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ