May 29, 2008 / 8:27 PM / 10 years ago

Three suspected bomb-makers charged at Guantanamo

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI, May 29 (Reuters) - Pentagon prosecutors filed new charges on Thursday against three prisoners accused of operating an al Qaeda bomb-making cell, the latest in a flurry of cases pending in the Guantanamo war crimes court.

Saudi Arabian captives Jabran al Qahtani and Ghassan al Sharbi and Algerian prisoner Sufyian Barhoumi were charged with conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support for terrorism.

The charges allege they trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, then traveled to a safe house in Pakistan, where Barhoumi taught Qahtani and Sharbi to build remote-control detonators for car bombs to be used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The charges still must be approved by the Pentagon official overseeing the Guantanamo war court, where charges are now pending against 17 of the 270 prisoners. They include five men facing arraignment next week on death penalty charges of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks that triggered the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.

Since the Guantanamo detention camp opened in 2002, only one case has been resolved and that was through a plea bargain that averted trial in the tribunals formally known as "military commissions."

Military defense lawyers and the former chief prosecutor have alleged the spate of new cases is part of a politically motivated attempt to get the trials moving before the November U.S. presidential election.

"I think the rush is based on the theory that a new administration would have difficulty stopping the commissions if they are in full swing. The only real way the system survives is inertia, essentially," said Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, appointed to defend Qahtani on earlier charges.


Those charged on Thursday are known as the Faisalabad Three, for the Pakistani town where they were captured with al Qaeda operations director Abu Zubaydah in March 2002.

All three were charged with conspiracy in the first court system set up by the Bush administration to try non-American captives on terrorism charges at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Those charges were dissolved when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that court as illegal in 2006. They were refiled on Thursday with the additional charges of material support, although the potential penalty of life in prison remains the same.

In pretrial hearings on the previous charges, Qahtani, an electrical engineer who is about 30, called the United States an enemy of God and said it had no right to try him in a military tribunal.

Sharbi, 33, a U.S.-trained electrical engineer, told the earlier tribunal that he fought against the United States, was proud of it and would consider it a matter of honor to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Barhoumi, a 34-year-old former British resident, told a military review panel he had never fought Americans and bore them no animosity. He is missing most of his left hand, which he said was blown off by a land mine while he was training in Afghanistan to go fight Russians in Chechnya during the late 1990s. (Editing by Peter Cooney)

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