- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The Pentagon will announce charges in the coming weeks against the next terrorism suspect to be tried by a military commission, a senior military official involved in the new system said yesterday.

Eight others also will be charged in the near future, said Army Col. Robert Swann, the chief prosecutor for the system authorized by President Bush for trying men captured in the war on terror.

“The American people will recognize the names of the individuals coming up,” Col. Swann told reporters here yesterday as the opening week of hearings for the first four men to be tried by U.S. military commissions since World War II came to an end.

Sudanese terror suspect Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi appeared before the commission yesterday on charges that include serving as a bodyguard for al Qaeda ringleader Osama bin Laden.

Although he did not enter a plea, a summary of charges was read to al Qosi, 44. Military officials then postponed the rest of the preliminary stage of his case until Oct. 4 on grounds his Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer had not been given enough time to prepare.

To date, Mr. Bush has declared 15 men eligible for commissions. In addition to al Qosi, the three others brought before the commission this week were Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul and Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, and David Hicks of Australia.

Hamdan, 34, is accused of having served as a driver for bin Laden, while al Bahlul, 36, is charged with acting as a propagandist for al Qaeda. Hicks, 29, is accused of attending training camps and of membership in the terror network.

The military commissions place Guantanamo at the center of the controversial legal universe that surrounds the war on terror. Not since the height of the Cold War when it was learned that the Soviet Union was moving nuclear warheads into Cuba, has this small naval base been so close to the center of world conflict.

Nor has it been so close to the center of a conflict of ideas between military officials.

Military lawyers tasked with defending the suspected terrorists spent the week locked in intellectual warfare with officers appointed to oversee the commissions. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who is representing one of the suspects, challenged the legality of the whole process, while Col. Swann and others have vigorously defended it as fully capable of producing fair trials.

The four men charged so far are considered by some to have been al Qaeda foot soldiers. A common vein running through their indictments is that each is accused of having had personal contact with bin Laden, who remains at large.

The Pentagon has not clarified why they were chosen to go first out of the 585 terror suspects held here, although yesterday’s developments suggest their cases may be a means of refining the process for trying higher profile terror suspects in the future.

While military officials stopped short of naming the suspects who will have charges leveled against them soon, one high profile terror suspect held by the United States is Khalid Shaikh Mohammad.

Referred to by law enforcement and intelligence officials as “KSM,” Mohammad is believed to have masterminded the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was captured last year in Pakistan and U.S. authorities have since been interrogating him at a classified location.

He is not held at Guantanamo, where the four suspects whose commissions began this week are being kept in solitary confinement inside the maximum security prison camp built after September 11.

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