The Pentagon war crimes prosecutor on Wednesday revived a Bush-era prosecution and charged a Saudi captive at Guantánamo with a 2002 terror attack on a French oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, and other al-Qaida-connected crimes.
If convicted by a military commission, Ahmed al Darbi, 47, could receive a maximum penalty of life in prison, the Pentagon said in an announcement.
All the other non-capital cases brought to the war court during the Obama administration resulted in plea deals that traded shortened sentences for cooperation in other Guantánamo cases. Darbi’s defense attorney, Ramzi Kassem, did not return calls and an email seeking a comment.
The deputy chief Pentagon defense counsel, Bryan Broyles, said Wednesday evening a deal “wouldn’t surprise me. The government is pursuing that assiduously in every case they can.” Broyles was earlier assigned to defend Darbi. He said he had no specific knowledge of a Darbi deal.
Allegations in Darbi’s case overlap with the ongoing death-penalty prosecution of another Saudi-born Guantánamo captive, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged architect of the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen. Like Darbi, Nashiri is also accused of conspiring to bomb the French oil tanker MV Limburg in October 2002.
The Pentagon said Darbi allegedly joined al-Qaida in 1997, trained as a fighter with the blessings of Osama bin Laden and then “committed multiple overt acts in support of a plot to bomb civilian oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and off the coast of Yemen.”
The Pentagon did not release the charge sheet Wednesday night but said Darbi “aided and abetted” in the Limburg attack that “severely injured multiple civilians and caused a large oil spill in the Gulf of Aden in 2002.”
The Pentagon statement made no mention of the fact that a crewmember, Atanas Atanasov of Bulgaria, died in the attack. Nor did it note that Darbi was captured in Azerbaijan and brought to the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba in August 2002, two months before the terror attack he allegedly abetted, according to his leaked Guantánamo intelligence assessment.
The chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said in a statement that Darbi's "alleged crimes are serious violations of the law of war that were committed to terrorize and wreak havoc on the world economy."
Darbi was last seen at the Guantánamo war court on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008, on similar charges. At that time, he held up a newspaper photo of Obama and said he hoped the new president would make good on his pledge to close the detention in southeast Cuba. He has been described as the brother-in-law of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers because his wife, the mother of his two children, is the sister of a hijacker’s widow.