Guantanamo trial to showcase gadgetry, spy-plane imagery

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba &mdash An Army prosecutor on Tuesday described an alleged al Qaeda propagandist as being at the heart of the Afghan-based terror group by early 2000, a time when Osama bin Laden had decided to spread his message through media and mayhem.

The accused, Ali Hamza al Bahlul, listened intently as the prosecutor outlined plans for a weeklong trial showcasing spy-plane imagery, video gadgetry, prison camp confessions, intercepted letters and testimony from convicted terrorists.

Bahlul, about 40, is charged with three war crimes for working as bin Laden's media secretary after he moved from his native Yemen to Afghanistan in February 1999 until his capture in the U.S. invasion in late 2001. Conviction could carry at most life in prison.

''In Afghanistan, the accused served as the media man for Osama bin Laden and other members of the organization,'' prosecutor Army Maj. Dan Cowhig said, noting that Bahlul was also sometimes confused for bin Laden's bodyguard because he carried a rifle and grenades along with the boss' laptop computer.

In essence, the prosecutor said, Bahlul's role was ''to launch propaganda for al Qaeda,'' to create a video that made "a political argument, an indoctrination, a solicitation.''

That movie, he said, includes a chapter called ''The Destruction of the American Destroyer USS Cole'' -- which splices special effects, tales of suicide bombings, bin Laden speeches celebrating jihad and al Qaeda forces in training.

Seventeen American sailors died aboard the USS Cole in the October 2000 suicide bombing. Two men in a small explosives-laden vessel pulled up alongside the Cole while it was on a refueling stop in the southern Yemeni port of Aden, and detonated their load -- crippling the $1 billion warship.

Prosecutors cast Bahlul's role in making that film in particular as the smoking-gun evidence in their conspiracy case, which alleges he solicited the murder of protected people and provided material support for terror.

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