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PUERTO RICO - US reaches plea deal at Guantanamo military trial

Published:Thursday | July 8, 2010 | 12:00 AM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP):

One of the first terrorism suspects taken to Guantanamo Bay pleaded guilty yesterday to two charges in a plea deal that gives United States President Barack Obama's administration its first conviction since pledging to close the detention centre at the US base in Cuba.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, 50, pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy at a hearing before a military judge.

A panel of military officers will determine his sentence at a hearing scheduled for August. Al-Qosi, who is from Sudan, faces up to life in prison but could also be sentenced to time served, Military Commissions spokesman Joe DellaVedova said in a telephone interview. He has been held at Guantanamo since January 2002.

Al-Qosi was accused of acting as accountant, paymaster, supply chief and cook for al-Qaida during the 1990s when the terror network was centred in Sudan and Afghanistan. He allegedly worked later as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

New York-based Human Rights First criticised the government for taking so long to resolve the case against a prisoner captured by US forces in December 2001. The military commissions have been stalled by legal challenges and changes to the rules.

"This is not a victory for the military commission system," said Daphne Eviatar, a senior associate in the group's Law and Security Programme. "In fact, Mr al Qosi's case is a textbook example of the inability of the military commission system ... to achieve swift justice. The case has dragged on for more than six years without a trial."

Attorney General Eric Holder had designated al-Qosi in November as one of four detainees who would face trial before military commissions, instead of civilian courts, as the administration seeks to close the detention centre where the US now holds 181 prisoners.

Obama had pledged shortly after his inauguration in January 2009 to close the prison, though not the base on Cuban territory, within a year. But the effort has stalled because Congress will not agree to moving prisoners to the US to face trial or continued detention.