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Miami Herald

'Indefinite' Defined: Even After Serving Sentence, US May Hold Detainee

Pentagon: Captive Might Not Go Home After Sentence

Carol Rosenberg

In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin and reviewed by a U.S. Department of Defense official, guilty plea convict Detainee Ibrahim al Qosi of Sudan attends the sentencing portion of his war crimes trial Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (JANET HAMLIN / POOL SKETCH ARTIST)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- A confessed al Qaeda cook serving a two-year terrorism sentence will not automatically go home to his native Sudan in July 2012 when his punishment ends, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Monday.

Ibrahim al Qosi, 50, pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism in July. A military jury sentenced him to 14 more years at Guantánamo, unaware that a senior Pentagon official agreed to cap Qosi’s prison term at two years.

He is now segregated in a cellblock of the prison camps here reserved for war criminals.

“Decisions regarding Mr. al Qosi’s status after he serves his punitive confinement will be made by the detention authorities at that time,” Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher said.

She called the sentence due to expire July 7, 2012 “being punished for past acts.” After that, he could still be subject to “detention under the law of war” as “a belligerent during an armed conflict.”

Qosi’s Pentagon-paid attorney, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, was critical of the Pentagon position. She said it was at odds with President Barack Obama’s goal of emptying the prison camps here, which are in their 10th year.

“As the president said in his order of Jan 22, 2009, ‘prompt and appropriate disposition of individuals detained at Guantánamo . . . would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.’"

“Indefinitely detaining a 53-year-old man who will have served his sentence and been in custody more than 11 years for being a cook serves neither our national security or foreign policy interests,’’ Lachelier said.

“It bludgeons ‘the interests of justice.’"

Bradsher, the Pentagon spokeswoman, was responding to a specific query from The Miami Herald about the endgame in the Qosi case on the eve of the first military commissions hearing here of 2011.

War court sources said another long-held Sudanese captive would plead guilty to war crimes in exchange for a short sentence: Noor Uthman Mohammed, in his 40s, who allegedly was a weapons instructor and some-time manager of the Khaldan terror training camp along the tribal frontier border between Afghan-Pakistan.

The man known as Noor is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terror, war crimes that could be punished by life in prison. He has been held by the U.S. military for nearly nine years.

Pakistani security forces working with the CIA captured Noor in a March 28, 2002 raid on a safe house that netted the United States its first so-called “high-value detainee” after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks -- Zayn Abdeen al Hussain, better known as Abu Zubaydah.

Little had been known about Noor, whose attorney said he traveled to Afghanistan long before 9/11 for weapons training and to deepen his faith. He is the last captive currently charged under the military commissions system that Obama decried as a senator and reformed as a president.

But there were signs at the war court Monday that the Noor plea could have more wide-ranging consequences. The prosecution team had doubled since Noor’s September hearing, and included two federal prosecutors, one from the Eastern District of Virginia, once considered a future venue for Obama-era Guantánamo prosecutions.

There are only three convicted war criminals among the 172 captives at Guantánamo on Tuesday – Qosi, confessed teen terrorist Omar Khadr, 24, due to go back to his native Canada later this year and Yemeni Ali Hamza al Bahlul, 41, serving life for working as Osama bin Laden’s media secretary and making an al Qaeda recruitment video.

Were Noor to trade a guilty plea for a short prison sentence, like Khadr and Qosi, it was equally unclear whether he would go home once his time in the convicts’ cellblock ended. In the case of Khadr, the Canadian government issued diplomatic assurances that it would take the Canadian back at the end of another year at Guantánamo, a condition of his November guilty plea.

But for Qosi and Noor there’s an added hitch: They hail from Sudan, the northeastern Africa country on the State Sponsors of Terror list. Congressional limits on Guantánamo detainee transfers forbid the Obama administration from sending even cleared captives to states on the list.

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