By Cheryl Pellerin of American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Feb. 15, 2011 - Accused terrorist training camp instructor Noor Uthman Muhammed pleaded guilty here today to charges of supporting and conspiring with international terrorist organizations against the United States.
Noor, as he has asked to be called in court, will be sentenced at a hearing this week before members of a military commission.
"The prosecution is very pleased with the entry of the guilty plea by Noor this morning," Navy Capt. John Murphy, chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions, told reporters after the trial. "We believe it is another step in the justice that we are achieving in the commission cases."
The commission now has resolved six cases to date, including Noor's, all of which have resulted in convictions after trial or pleas of guilty, Murphy said.
Noor's traditional white Muslim garb was covered with a dark blue jacket. Covering his head was a small white cap. He wore headphones through which an interpreter conveyed the words of the trial judge, Navy Capt. Moira Modzelewski.
Noor pleaded guilty to the first charge against him, which included the following:
-- Acting as a weapons instructor at the Khaldan terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and between 1996 and 2000 instructing terrorist trainees on topics that included small arms and artillery;
-- Serving on the Khaldan camp's leadership council, called a shura, and acting as the camp's deputy emir, or commander;
-- As deputy emir, overseeing the camp's daily operations, including training and acquiring food and supplies.
The second charge held that, between August 1996 and March 2002, Noor conspired with al-Qaida and others to commit "one or more substantive offenses triable by military commission." Noor pleaded guilty to this charge, but he denied some of the elements in it, including attacking civilians, murder in violation of the law of war and destruction of property in violation of the law of war.
The guilty plea is the "strongest form of evidence known to the law," Modzelewski told Noor, and she said she would use the plea to determine his guilt and the commission would use it to decide on his sentence.
When answering in the affirmative, Noor softly answered, "Na'am," the Arabic word for yes. He answered most of the judge's questions this way, resting in his chair and laboring to his feet slowly when asked to rise.
Noor's defense team included Howard Cabot, Navy Cmdr. Katie Doxakis, Army Maj. Amy Fitzgibbons and Navy Capt. Chris Kannady.
The prosecution team consisted of Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Sachs, Marine Corps Maj. James Weirick, Marine Corps Maj. Glen Hines, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Gaston, Army Maj. Daniel Cowhig and two assistant U.S. attorneys representing the Justice Department, James Trump and Mikeal Clayton.
Noor's is the last case the military commissions office is free to prosecute, Murphy said. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder designated three other suspected terrorists to be prosecuted in military commissions rather than in civilian criminal courts, he said: Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged mastermind behind the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole; Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi, brother-in-law of Khalid al Mihdhar, whose hijacked Flight 77 hit the Pentagon on 9/11; and suspected al-Qaida member Obaidullah.
The three have not been charged yet, and Murphy said the military commissions office is awaiting authorization to proceed or not from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
In all military commissions, a panel of military officers, called "members," determines the sentence when there is a finding of guilt, Defense Department spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher said today.
At a hearing scheduled for Feb. 16, the defense and prosecution will have a chance to present evidence and arguments before the members determine a sentence.
The terms of Noor's pretrial agreement are not disclosed to the members and will be made public after the sentence is announced.
The Guantanamo Bay detention center is operated by the U.S. government's Joint Task Force Guantanamo. The facility was established in 2002.
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