Al Qosi’s Long Awaited Plea Deal Emblematic of Flawed Military Commission System
Washington, DC Nearly a decade after Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi’s arrest and transfer to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, his military commission proceeding has concluded with a deal in which he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and material support. This is only the fourth military commission conviction and the first under the Obama Administration. Al Qosi’s sentence has not yet been announced.
“This is not a victory for the military commission system,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar. “In fact Mr. al Qosi’s case is a textbook example of the inability of the military commission system now in its third incarnation to achieve swift justice. The case has dragged on for more than six years without a trial. By the time he entered his guilty plea today, the commission still hadn’t decided whether it even has jurisdiction over him.”
Al Qosi was seized by U.S. forces on December 15, 2001, but was not charged with a crime until February 6, 2004. Al Qosi was charged with assisting al Qaeda by, for example, cooking and driving for its members. Human Rights First today noted that it’s not clear that the military commissions have jurisdiction over such alleged “material support” for terrorism. The federal courts, by contrast, have clear authority to convict for material support.
Military commissions have now convicted only four people since 9/11. Federal courts, by contrast, have convicted 400 terrorists. Human Rights First noted the contrast between al Qosi’s case and that of Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber. Shahzad was arrested on May 3, just two days after his car full of fertilizer started smoking. He promptly provided information to federal authorities, as well as confessing to the crime. He didn’t even ask for a lawyer for two weeks. After Shahzad did consult with a lawyer, he quickly decided to plead guilty. On June 21, less than two months after his arrest, he pled guilty to ten counts of terrorism. He now awaits sentencing.
“The Shahzad conviction was a model of efficient justice and demonstrated that the United States does not need to rely on special courts. Trying terrorism suspects in military commissions only grants them a warrior status that they don’t deserve. Our federal court system is capable of handling terrorism cases and does so efficiently and effectively,” observed Eviatar. “Under our federal system, Mr. Shahzad was treated humanely, read his Miranda rights, proceeded to cooperate and then plead guilty. Given that he pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to kill and maim people in the U.S., using and carrying a destructive device, transporting an explosive device and attempting to damage building, vehicles, and other property, he’s likely to face life behind bars. That’s how the American justice system is supposed to work, for terrorists and for everyone else. It convicts the guilty, protects the innocent, and gathers information that helps law enforcement keep doing its job.”