GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – A video maker for Usama bin Laden who vowed to fight anyone who governs America faced up to life in prison after being convicted Monday of encouraging Al Qaeda members to commit terrorist attacks.
Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was found guilty of 35 counts of conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and providing material support to terrorism. A military jury was deliberating over a potential life sentence on each count.
The 39-year-old Yemeni defiantly admitted joining Al Qaeda, accused the U.S. of oppressing Muslims for 50 years and said "we will fight any government that governs America.
"We are the only ones on Earth who stand against you," al-Bahlul said, adding that the U.S. had only itself to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Whoever said this happened out of nowhere is an idiot," he said. "You have started the war against us."
The lead prosecutor, Army Maj. Daniel Cowhig, asked for a life sentence, saying al-Balhul has shown no remorse or regret.
"When will it be safe for this man to leave confinement? Never," Cowhig said.
Al-Bahlul was not accused of participating in the Sept. 11 attacks, but prosecutors and witnesses said he was so close to bin Laden that he hooked up a satellite receiver so they could hear live radio coverage of the attacks as the pair huddled in Afghanistan's Khost province.
Prosecutors said he also acknowledged to interrogators that he was Al Qaeda's media chief, made propaganda videos that inspired terrorists to attack the U.S., and arranged for lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to swear a loyalty oath to the Al Qaeda chief.
Al-Balhul called the military tribunal a "legal farce" and refused to mount a defense. His Pentagon-appointed lawyer stayed silent during the trial, refusing to even answer questions from the judge.
Witnesses at his sentencing hearing included the father of a sailor killed in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole — which was featured in a video the military says al-Bahlul produced to train and inspire Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.
Gary Swenchonis Sr., whose son Gary was killed in the attack, said he was devastated that al-Bahlul's video has been widely available on the Internet.
"It's pervasive," said Swenchonis, of Rockport, Texas, his voice thick with emotion. "That's what's so bad. That's what's so wrong."
Al-Bahlul, who was brought to Guantanamo in 2002, is the second prisoner to go through a war crimes trial under the special military commissions system. Former bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan was convicted in August and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison.
The jury dismissed one count of conspiracy and one count of providing material support for terrorism.