GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A Yemeni prisoner watched an al Qaeda recruiting video with his Guantanamo interrogator and proudly admitted producing the work, the interrogator testified in the U.S. war crimes court on Wednesday.
“He considered it one of the best propaganda videos al Qaeda has to date,” former FBI special agent Ali Soufan testified in the U.S. war crimes trial of defendant Ali Hamza al Bahlul.
Osama bin Laden was so impressed with the video that he promoted Bahlul to become his media secretary, the FBI agent quoted Bahlul as telling him.
Bahlul is on trial at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on charges of conspiring with al Qaeda to attack civilians, soliciting to commit murder and providing material support for terrorism. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Bahlul was captured near the Pakistan border after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and was sent to the Guantanamo detention center in early 2002. When Soufan showed him the video during an interrogation, Bahlul said it had taken him six months to piece together on his laptop computer using Adobe software, television news images and footage of bin Laden speeches.
The production blamed America and Israel for all the woes of the Muslim world and showed bin Laden urging Muslims to go to Afghanistan and join al Qaeda to avenge their treatment.
It included a segment titled “The Destruction of the American Destroyer USS Cole,” praising the suicide bombers who drove an explosives-filled boat into the side of the American warship at the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000. The blast blew a hole in the side of the Cole and killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Prosecutors said the video was shown at al Qaeda camps to convince trainees that becoming suicide bombers was a righteous cause.
Soufan said Bahlul told him al Qaeda expected the Cole attack would lure a new wave of recruits to the anti U.S.-war that they believed to be the start of Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil.
Prosecutors showed the two-hour video to the jury of nine U.S. military officers on Wednesday. It showed starving and crying children, mangled and blood-spattered bodies and scenes of Muslims under attack in Bosnia, Chechnya and the Palestinian territories.
Gruesome images alternated with footage of bin Laden saying, “The Jews are free to do whatever they wish with Muslim women ... The child dies in the arms of his mother.”
The work is titled in flaming letters and punctuated with the sound of gun blasts, sobbing, Koranic verse and martial singing. Bahlul used special effects to superimpose a cartoonish blast over a news photograph of the damaged Cole.
Bahlul sat at the defense table beaming with pride at some segments and nodding in agreement at bin Laden’s words. He pounded his fist on the table once at the mention of the defilement of Muslim women.
Soufan testified that Bahlul had told him, “Everything I believe is in that tape.”
Soufan and a Navy investigator, Robert McFadden, both said Bahlul told them American civilians were legitimate targets since they “are paying taxes and supporting the war against Muslims.”
Bahlul, a slightly built man with a short, dark beard, was denied permission to act as his own attorney. His U.S. military lawyer is honoring his request not to put on any defense in the tribunal that Bahlul previously called “a farce.”
His trial is the second full test of the special tribunals created to try non-U.S. citizens outside the regular civilian and military courts.
About 255 suspected members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated groups are now being detained at Guantanamo. More than 750 foreign captives have been held without trial at the base in the seven years since President George W. Bush declared a war against terrorism in response to the September 11 attacks.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman