World News

Afghan held at Guantanamo referred to military trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has decided the military should prosecute an Afghan detainee, held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for allegedly hiding and storing mines to be used against American forces, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

The decision to have the man, who goes by the sole name Obaidullah, face possible military charges was revealed in a Justice Department filing with a U.S. appeals court that is weighing issues related to his request to be freed from the Guantanamo prison.

The Pentagon must now decide whether to refer charges to a formal military commission, according to the filing.

When President Barack Obama came into office last year, he ordered a review of all the detainees held at the controversial facility to determine who would be released and who would be referred for prosecution in criminal or military courts.

Obaidullah is the sixth prisoner referred to the military by the Obama administration as part of its bid to close the Guantanamo prison. Held there since 2002, he challenged his detention with a habeas corpus petition in a U.S. civil court.

He was initially charged by military prosecutors in 2008 for possessing mines and other explosives in the Khost area of Afghanistan from October 2001 to July 2002. Obaidullah was also accused of carrying a notebook that included instructions on how to use them.

In an administrative hearing in 2005 to justify Obaidullah’s detention at Guantanamo, U.S. military officers said more than 20 anti-tank mines were found at his family’s home near Khost and were intended for use against U.S. forces.

Obaidullah said the mines belonged to a commander who lived in the house while Afghanistan was under Soviet rule, according to a transcript.

He said the Taliban government forced him to attend a technical school to learn about mines, where he made the notes in the notebook, but that he left after two days and went into hiding from the Taliban.

In November, the Justice Department said five other Guantanamo prisoners would be tried in revamped military tribunals. They were overhauled to ban the use of coerced testimony and make it harder for hearsay to be used.

Those already facing the military tribunals include the alleged mastermind of a 2000 attack on the USS Cole warship in Yemen, Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, and a young Canadian, Omar Khadr, who was accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Peter Cooney