SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A Sudanese prisoner at Guantanamo Bay pleaded guilty Tuesday to two war-crimes charges, accepting a deal with military prosecutors that will spare him the possibility of life in prison if convicted at trial.
Noor Uthman Mohammed entered guilty pleas to one count of providing material support of terrorism and one count of conspiracy in a hearing before a military judge at the U.S. base in Cuba, said Navy Capt. David Iglesias, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Military Commissions.
The military had said Noor, as he told the judge he would like to be called, had helped to run an al-Qaida training camp where three of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks trained. He faced up to life in prison if convicted, Iglesias said. The terms of his plea deal have not been released.
A military jury is expected to begin deliberating on a sentence this week but under commission rules Noor cannot receive a sentence greater than whatever has been set under the still-sealed plea deal.
Arabic broadcaster Al Arabiya, citing an anonymous source, reported that Noor, who is believed to be in his 40s, will serve no more than three years at Guantanamo and has agreed to testify against other prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian and alleged facilitator for al-Qaida who was subjected to harsh interrogation in a special anti-terror program authorized by former U.S. President George W. Bush.
This is the fourth plea bargain by a Guantanamo prisoner and the third since President Barack Obama took office and pledged to close the detention center where the U.S. still holds about 170 men.
Laura Pitter, a counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch who is in Guantanamo this week to observe the proceedings, said Noor appeared eager to get the proceedings over. He has already been held for nearly nine years and had to give up a number of rights, including the right to challenge the conditions of his confinement in the future, as part of his plea.
"There was enormous pressure on Noor to accept this," Pitter said in an e-mail from the base.
U.S. military prosecutors have said several dozen of the men at Guantanamo could be charged in the war crimes tribunals but with Noor's plea there are no active cases. In addition to the four plea bargains, two detainees have been convicted at trial.
(This version CORRECTS that name should be Noor on second reference)