Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul was tried by the military commissions and sentenced to life in prison on November 3, 2008, after a military jury found him guilty of 35 counts of conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder, and providing material support for terrorism. In January of 2013, however, the federal appeals court in Washington D.C. overturned Bahlul’s conviction ruling that the acts of which al-Bahlul was convicted were not internationally recognized war crimes at the time he committed them.
Al-Bahlul, who was one of the first detainees to be transferred to Guantanamo when the facility opened in 2002, was accused of being Osama bin Laden's "media secretary." He reportedly made Al-Qaeda recruitment videos glorifying the bombing of the USS Cole, as well as video wills for two of the 9/11 hijackers.
At al-Bahlul's initial appearance before the first round of military commissions in 2005 he requested permission to choose a lawyer from his native Yemen, but his request was denied. When he appeared again a year later, he requested permission to represent himself, stating that he had no expectation of justice from a system created by his American enemies. That request was denied as well.
That case was ultimately thrown out when the Supreme Court declared the initial military commissions unlawful. Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act, establishing new military commissions in 2006 and in early 2008, the US government announced new charges against al-Bahlul.
When al-Bahlul made his first appearance before the congressionally-authorized military commissions, he once again told the court that he would not accept representation and that he planned to boycott the proceedings. A military judge ruled that al-Bahlul could not both represent himself and boycott, so Air Force Major David Frakt was assigned to represent him. Al-Bahlul refused to authorize Frakt to speak on his behalf, however, and both detainee and counsel sat mute for the duration of the week-long trial.
On October 20, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a fractured decision that upheld Bahlul’s military commission conviction but provided no answer to the question of whether military prosecutors may bring conspiracy charges in other cases. On October 10, 2017, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from this decision. Al-Bahlul remains in detention at Guantanamo. (Last updated August 9, 2018)