(Corrects year of Somalia attack to 1993 in 4th paragraph, spelling of Qaida in movie title in paragraphs 2, 6)
By Randall Mikkelsen
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the trial of Osama bin Laden’s driver unveiled a graphic video on Monday of the September 11 attacks and other al Qaeda operations that is likely to play a repeated role in pending war crimes cases.
The video is entitled “The Al Qaida Plan,” an echo of “The Nazi Plan” made by Oscar-winning director George Stevens as evidence in the Nuremberg war crimes trials of German leaders after World War II.
“Oh my God” was heard repeatedly as crowds watched the twin towers of the World Trade centre collapse on September 11, 2001, in a vivid highlight of the movie shown over defence objections at the terrorism conspiracy trial of Salim Hamdan.
The six-member panel that will decide Hamdan’s fate also saw footage of charred bodies stripped of flesh in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the body of a U.S. soldier dragged through the streets in Somalia in 1993.
Control tower conversations with one of the doomed September 11 planes were also included.
“The Al Qaida Plan” was made for $20,000 (10,000 pounds) by terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann for the Office of Military Commissions, which is conducting the trials of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo. Its 90 minutes of video clips depict the history of al Qaeda from its formation in 1988 through the September 11 attacks.
The commission’s lead prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris, said the tape would be used in other trials but no decision had been made whether to use it in the trial of accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Hamdan’s attorneys objected that the footage would prejudice the jury. “They’re trying to terrorize the members,” defence attorney Charles Swift told the court.
But prosecutors said the video helped illustrate the goals of al Qaeda training and ideology. “It is a very important part of the prosecution’s case,” said prosecutor Clayton Trivett.
Commission Judge Keith Allred approved the video, after first saying it would serve more to prejudice the case than to prove a point. “The planes crashing into the towers and the people screaming doesn’t prove anything,” he said.
A pivotal point of contention is the significance of Hamdan’s role in al Qaeda. The Yemeni native was caught in November 2001 with two surface-to-air missiles in his car.
defence attorneys say he was a lowly driver, but the prosecution has sought to portray him as a trusted bodyguard who helped bin Laden evade capture and stay alive.
The two sides have also skirmished over an expert’s testimony on the laws of war. With Hamdan being tried as a war criminal under a 2006 U.S. law, the prosecution is seeking to show the United States was in a continuing armed conflict with al Qaeda well before the September 11 attacks.
Hamdan’s attorneys have sought to demonstrate that the battle with al Qaeda did not reach the state of armed conflict until the September 11 attacks, which could make it harder for the prosecution to prove Hamdan’s actions count as a war crime.
Separately on Monday, the Pentagon announced it had filed charges against another detainee at Guantanamo and released three from the detention centre.
The Pentagon said Abdul Ghani was accused of attempted murder, material support for terrorism and conspiracy over accusations he fired rockets and planted bombs aimed at U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, and tried to kill an Afghani soldier in 2002.
The Pentagon said it had released three detainees — one to Afghanistan, one to the United Arab Emirates and one to Qatar. It said more than 65 Guantanamo detainees are eligible for transfer or release subject to talks on where they will go.
Editing by Todd Eastham