GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- A Sudanese citizen accused of being Osama bin Laden's cook and a member of an al Qaida mortar squad pleaded guilty today to charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.
The terms of the deal that led to Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi's guilty plea were not released. Qosi could face life in prison, but it is likely that Qosi entered his plea in exchange for a lesser sentence. He'll be sentenced in August.
Qosi's guilty plea marks the first conviction at the Guantanamo Navy Base military commissions since President Barack Obama became president and the fourth since the camp began holding trials of people detained at Guantanamo as suspected terrorists.
Two of those, Australian David Hicks, who pleaded guilty in exchange for return to Australia, and Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who was accused of being bin Laden's driver, are free today in their home countries. The third, Ali Hamza al Bahlul, chose not to mount a defense to charges that he was bin Laden's propagandist and was sentenced to life in prison. He is the only person being held at Guantanamo's section for convicted prisoners.
Qosi's likely plea deal was first reported by Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg on June 21, but Rosenberg was unable to attend today's hearing because she was banned by the Pentagon from covering military commissions for three months for publishing the name of a witness the Pentagon wanted kept secret in another Guantanamo case.
The Herald and several other media organizations have protested that the ground rules under which Rosenberg and three Canadian reporters were banned are unconstitutional and the banning, illegal. The organizations noted that the name of the witness was already widely known and that he had been interviewed voluntarily by one of the banned Canadian reporters. Rosenberg's banning ends Aug. 5.
Qosi, 50, joined al Qaida in August, 1996, and remained by bin Laden's side for the next five years, according to U.S. military documents. Once the cook at the "Star of Jihad'' compound in Afghanistan, he was accused of being a member of the mortar crew in a compound in Kandahar, which he helped evacuate just two weeks before the strike on the Twin Towers.
Two months later, he's alleged to have come under heavy fire by U.S. forces during bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora, according to documents charging him with conspiracy and aiding terrorism.
If Qosi is allowed to return to Sudan as part of his plea deal it would represent another step toward Obama's ultimate goal: emptying the detention center here, where 181 enemy combatants are still being held nearly six months after the president's deadline to close it.