September 10, 2008 / 9:44 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. charges Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo

MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. military prosecutors filed charges on Wednesday against an Afghan prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, alleging he committed war crimes by storing and hiding anti-tank mines in his homeland.

Obaidullah, who like many Afghans is known by one name, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.

The charges allege he hid mines and other explosives in the Khost area of Afghanistan from October 2001 to July 2002 and carried a notebook describing “how to wire and detonate explosive devices in preparation for acts of terrorism.”

The Pentagon released a copy of the charges, which did not specify with whom or against Obaidullah is accused of conspiring.

In an administrative hearing in 2005 to justify his 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 had left after two days and gone into hiding from the Taliban.

He also said he gave false confessions while in U.S. custody at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan after his capture, where he said he was deprived of sleep and threatened at knifepoint.

“They were standing me on the wall and my hands were hanging above my head. There were a lot of things they made me say,” the transcript quotes him as saying through an interpreter.

The charges must be approved by the Pentagon appointee overseeing the Guantanamo war crimes trials, Susan Crawford, before the case can proceed.

Obaidullah, who would face life in prison if convicted, is the 24th Guantanamo prisoner charged with war crimes. U.S. President George W. Bush authorized the Guantanamo tribunals to try non-U.S. captives on terrorism charges outside the regular civilian and military courts after the September 11 attacks.

The military plans to try as many as 80 Guantanamo prisoners but has completed only one trial, which ended in August with the conviction of Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, on charges of providing material support for terrorism.

Another case was resolved when Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty to the same charge and finished his nine-month sentence in his homeland.

Both major-party candidates vying to succeed Bush in January have said they would close the Guantanamo detention operation at the U.S. naval base in Cuba and it was unclear whether the tribunals would survive into the next administration.

Human rights activists and U.S. military defense lawyers have condemned them as rigged to convict.

The U.S. military still holds about 255 prisoners at Guantanamo and has sent home about twice that many.

Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney

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