Conviction Upheld in Guantánamo Military Commission Appeal; Defendant Will Serve Life in Prison

September 12, 2011, New York - Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights responded to the United States Court of Military Commission Review (CMRC) decision in Al-Bahlul v. United States, which was issued on the evening of September 9, 2011:

“Although disappointing, it is no surprise that the CMRC succeeded in its search for a legal theory – any theory, including those expressly abandoned or never argued by the government at trial – to support the conviction and life sentence imposed on Mr. Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a detainee who boycotted his trial before a military commission at Guantánamo.
Like the CMRC’s recent decision in Hamdan v. United States, the Bahlul decision is a 139-page mash up of thinly analyzed legal points, many of which are extraneous to the issues on appeal.  Bahlul is replete with error, ranging from factual mistakes about the status of German Marines in WWII, to confusion between substantive offenses and methods of proving liability for those offenses, to discussion of terrorism as a war crime.  It lacks the attention to detail and serious scholarship of a reasoned judicial decision.
Bahlul reminds us that the military commission system was designed to serve only one purpose – to manufacture predetermined guilty verdicts for Arab and Muslim men who have been dehumanized and rendered unworthy of protections provided by the U.S. Constitution and by law, including international law.
Bahlul also reminds us that the military commissions have failed to provide any measure of accountability or redress for the attacks of 9/11.  After nearly a decade of false starts, the military commissions are notable only for convicting a chauffeur, a child, and a video propagandist, none of whom is responsible for 9/11.  Is this why our government abandoned the federal courts, despite their imperfections, and created a secondary system of justice at Guantánamo? Who will be tried next, a Taliban cook, or perhaps an Al Qaeda gardener? 
In addition, issuance of Bahlul on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks appears to be a cheap attempt to cloak the decision in the painful memory of that tragedy.  Yet the failure of the Bush and Obama Administrations to prosecute in any forum the architect of the 9/11 attacks, who has been in custody since 2003, is an insult to the memory of those people who died on 9/11 and the hundreds of thousands who have died and the millions who have suffered as a consequence of the U.S. response to the attacks.  It is a testament to the failure of the military commission system.
Indeed, the military commission system is so plagued by inter-agency conflict and bureaucratic paralysis that even if a detainee wanted to resolve his case without a trial, there does not appear to be anywhere he could go to do it or anyone in the government who could make the necessary decisions to get it done.
Mr. Bahlul’s conviction and sentence should be reversed, the military commission system should be abandoned, and Guantánamo should be closed immediately."
The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last nine years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with an individual transferred from CIA “ghost detention” to Guántanamo. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantánamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 30 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

September 12, 2011