GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – A U.S. military commission began a pretrial hearing Wednesday for a Yemeni man who was Usama bin Laden's bodyguard and is charged with conspiracy.
U.S. prosecutors allege Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul made a videotape on bin Laden's orders to glorify Al Qaeda's October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors. He also is accused of wearing an explosive belt to protect the Al Qaeda leader when he traveled with him in 2001.
Two U.S. soldiers guided al Bahlul into the courtroom Wednesday on this military base on the eastern tip of Cuba, where about 500 terror suspects are detained. Some have been held for as long as four years.
It was the second time al Bahlul, who wore a blue shirt and tan pants, has appeared before the commission. He brought two pieces of paper with him that appeared to be notes.
Army Col. Peter E. Brownback, the presiding officer, temporarily halted the proceedings five minutes after they began because al Bahlul was not provided with a headset to hear interpretations.
During the hearing, the commission could set a trial schedule. Al Bahlul has said he wants to defend himself and has challenged the commission's appointment of Maj. Tom Fleener as military counsel for him.
U.S. prosecutors alleged in court documents that bin Laden assigned al Bahlul to work in the Al Qaeda media office from late 1999 through December 2001. He created several instructional and motivational videotapes to recruit people for the terrorist organization, prosecutors said.
On Sept. 11, 2001, bin Laden asked al Bahlul to set up a satellite connection so Al Qaeda members could see news reports on the attacks. But he could not carry out the task due to mountainous terrain in Afghanistan, U.S prosecutors said.
Omar Ahmed Khadr, a 19-year-old Canadian charged with murder, attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy, was also scheduled to go before the commission later Wednesday, the fourth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo detention camp.