GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A Sudanese prisoner held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay admitted he trained al Qaeda recruits in Afghanistan and pleaded guilty on Tuesday to terrorism charges.
Defendant Noor Uthman Muhammed admitted to the war crimes tribunal that he was a weapons instructor and logistics manager at the Khaldan paramilitary camp in Afghanistan, where some of the September 11 hijackers and other al Qaeda operatives trained.
He pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support for terrorism.
Noor, as he asked the court to call him, could have faced life in prison if convicted at trial. His plea agreement, which was not disclosed, sets a shorter cap on his sentence on the condition that he cooperate in other prosecutions.
A man in his 40’s with a scraggly gray beard, Noor sat at a long reddish table in the high-security courtroom and listened through earphones to an English-Arabic interpreter.
He apparently cannot read -- he signed Arabic translations of the plea documents with his thumbprint after his U.S. military and civilian lawyers explained the details.
Noor acknowledged he gave small-arms training to recruits from al Qaeda and affiliated groups and was a deputy commander of the Khaldan camp from 1996 until it was shut down in 2000.
He is not classified as a “high value” prisoner but the tribunals’ chief prosecutor, Navy Captain John Murphy, said Noor and Khaldan were integral parts of the al Qaeda pipeline.
“He is part of the apparatus of al Qaeda and terrorism,” Murphy told journalists after the plea hearing.
Noor is the third Guantanamo prisoner to plead guilty during the administration of President Barack Obama, who criticized the Guantanamo tribunals as a candidate, tweaked them as president and tried unsuccessfully to shut down the detention camp.
Three other prisoners were convicted during the administration of President George W. Bush, who set up the camp in 2002 to hold, interrogate and try foreign captives suspected of links to al Qaeda and their Taliban protectors in Afghanistan.
Noor’s plea resolves the last outstanding charges currently pending in the tribunals at the Guantanamo base, which has held nearly 800 captives and now holds 172.
A jury of at least five U.S. military officers will be chosen to issue a sentence. But as long as Noor honours his agreement to cooperate, he will not serve a sentence that exceeds the cap in the sealed plea deal.
Noor was one of several Guantanamo prisoners captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002, in a raid that netted accused senior al Qaeda figure Abu Zubaydah.
The original charge accused him of conspiring with al Qaeda to attack and murder civilians. The version he pleaded guilty to removed that language and he admitted only to conspiring with al Qaeda to provide material support for terrorism.
That include providing safe houses, false identification, explosives and unidentified “lethal substances” to al Qaeda and its associates.
“You knew that such support would ultimately materially support terrorist attacks by al Qaeda or affiliated groups that were engaged in hostilities against the United States?” asked the judge, Navy Captain Moira Modzelewski.
“Yes,” Noor replied through the interpreter.
Defence attorneys have long criticized the tribunals as a lesser form of justice rigged to convict, but Noor’s lawyers said they would not comment until after sentencing.
Editing by John Whitesides