Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtKAREN LeCRAFT HENDERSON
Citation767 F.3d 1
Decision Date14 July 2014
Docket NumberNo. 11–1324.
PartiesAli Hamza Ahmad Suliman AL BAHLUL, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.

767 F.3d 1

Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman AL BAHLUL, Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.

No. 11–1324.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Argued Sept. 30, 2013
Decided July 14, 2014


Defendant's conspiracy conviction affirmed, defendant's convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes vacated, and remanded.

Karen LeCraft Henderson, Circuit Judge, filed concurring opinion.

Rogers, Circuit Judge, filed opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting.

Brown, Circuit Judge, filed opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge, filed opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part

[767 F.3d 4]

Michel Paradis, Counsel, Office of the Chief Defense Counsel, argued the cause for the petitioner. Mary R. McCormick and Todd E. Pierce, Counsel, were on brief.

David S. Weissbrodt and William J. Aceves were on brief for amicus curiae International Law Scholars in support of the petitioner.


Agnieszka Fryszman was on brief for amicus curiae National Institute of Military Justice in support of the petitioner.
McKenzie A. Livingston was on brief for amici curiae Robert D. Steele and other Former Members of the Intelligence Community in support of the petitioner.
John S. Summers and Michael J. Newman were on brief for amici curiae Professors David Glazier and Gary Solis in support of the petitioner.
Sarah H. Paoletti was on brief for amici curiae Historians, Political Scientists and Constitutional Law Scholars in support of the petitioner.
Jeffrey T. Renz was on brief for amici curiae First Amendment Scholars and Historians

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and the Montana Pardon Project in support of the petitioner.
Elizabeth B. Wydra was on brief for amicus curiae Constitutional Accountability Center in support of the petitioner.

Ian H. Gershengorn, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent.
Steven M. Dunne, Chief Attorney, and John F. De Pue, Attorney, were on brief. Jeffrey M. Smith, Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, and Francis A. Gilligan and Edward S. White, Attorneys, Office of Military Commissions, entered appearances.
James A. Schoettler Jr. was on brief for amici curiae Former Government Officials, Former Military Lawyers and Scholars of National Security Law in support of respondent.

Cory L. Andrews and Richard A. Samp were on brief for amici curiae Washington Legal Foundation et al. in support of the respondent.

Before: GARLAND, Chief Judge, and HENDERSON, ROGERS, TATEL, BROWN, GRIFFITH and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges.
Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge HENDERSON.
Concurring opinion filed by Circuit Judge HENDERSON.

Opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting filed by Circuit Judge ROGERS.

Opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part filed by Circuit Judge BROWN.

Opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part filed by Circuit Judge KAVANAUGH.

On Petition for Rehearing En Banc

KAREN LeCRAFT HENDERSON, Circuit Judge:

Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul (Bahlul) served as a personal assistant to Osama bin Laden, produced propaganda videos for al Qaeda and assisted with preparations for the attacks of September 11, 2001 that killed thousands of Americans. Three months after 9/11, Bahlul was captured in Pakistan and transferred to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Military prosecutors charged him with three crimes: conspiracy to commit war crimes, providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes. A military commission convicted him of all three crimes and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The United States Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR) affirmed his conviction and sentence. Bahlul appeals. For the reasons that follow, we reject Bahlul's ex post facto challenge to his conspiracy conviction and remand that conviction to the original panel of this Court for it to dispose of several remaining issues. In addition, we vacate his material support and solicitation convictions.

I. Background

Bahlul is a native of Yemen. In the late 1990s, he traveled to Afghanistan to join al Qaeda. He completed military-like training while staying at an al Qaeda guesthouse and eventually met and pledged an oath of loyalty (“bayat”) to bin Laden. Bin Laden assigned Bahlul to work in al Qaeda's media office.

On October 12, 2000, al Qaeda suicide bombers attacked the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 American servicemen and wounding 39 others. Bin Laden later instructed Bahlul to create a video celebrating the attack for use as a recruiting tool. The video Bahlul produced (and bin Laden edited) includes

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footage of the attack, calls for jihad against the United States and propaganda blaming “Western infidels” and complicit Middle Eastern regimes for Muslim suffering. Bahlul considered it one of the best propaganda videos al Qaeda had produced and it has been translated into several languages and widely distributed.

Bin Laden then appointed Bahlul as his personal assistant and secretary for public relations. Bahlul arranged the loyalty oaths of two of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Ziad al Jarrah, and prepared their “martyr wills”—propaganda declarations documenting al Qaeda's role in the attacks. Bahlul claims he sought to participate in the 9/11 attacks himself but bin Laden refused because he considered his media man too important to lose. In the days preceding 9/11, Bahlul assembled al Qaeda's media equipment and evacuated al Qaeda's Kandahar headquarters with bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders. They traveled to a remote region of Afghanistan where, on September 11, 2001, they heard reports of the day's attacks via a radio operated by Bahlul. Bin Laden subsequently asked Bahlul to research the economic effects of the attacks and report his findings.

In the following weeks, Bahlul fled to Pakistan. He was captured there in December 2001 and turned over to U.S. forces. In 2002, he was transferred to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has since been detained as an enemy combatant pursuant to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). See Pub.L. No. 107–40, § 2(a), 115 Stat. 224, 224; Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 518, 521, 124 S.Ct. 2633, 159 L.Ed.2d 578 (2004) (plurality). Two months after 9/11, President Bush invoked the AUMF and Article 21 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. § 821 (hereinafter “section 821”), to establish military commissions to try “member[s] of ... al Qaida” and others who “engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit, acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation therefor.” See Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non–Citizens in the War Against Terrorism, 66 Fed.Reg. 57,833 (Nov. 13, 2001). In 2003, the President designated Bahlul eligible for trial by military commission and in 2004 military prosecutors charged him with conspiracy to commit war crimes.

Bahlul's prosecution was stayed pending the outcome of another detainee's challenge to the lawfulness of his trial by military commission. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the United States Supreme Court held that the military commission procedures then in place contravened certain constraints imposed by the UCMJ and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949. 548 U.S. 557, 613–35, 126 S.Ct. 2749, 165 L.Ed.2d 723 (2006). In response to the Hamdan decision, the Congress enacted the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (2006 MCA), Pub.L. No. 109–336, 120 Stat. 2600, which amended the statutory procedures governing military commissions to cure the flaws identified in Hamdan. The 2006 MCA specifically enumerated 30 war crimes triable by military commission, see 10 U.S.C. §§ 950t–950v (2006),1 and conferred jurisdiction on military commissions to try “any offense made punishable by this chapter or the law of war when committed by an alien unlawful

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enemy combatant before, on, or after September 11, 2001,” id. § 948d(a).

The Supreme Court has long recognized that unlawful enemy combatants may be prosecuted by military commission for their war crimes. See Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 592–93, 126 S.Ct. 2749; Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 518, 124 S.Ct. 2633; In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1, 7–8, 11, 66 S.Ct. 340, 90 L.Ed. 499 (1946); Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 28, 31, 63 S.Ct. 2, 87 L.Ed. 3 (1942). There are three traditional bases for military commission jurisdiction: military government, martial law and the law of war. See Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 595–98, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (plurality opinion); see also id. at 683, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (Thomas, J., dissenting). First, military commissions may try ordinary crimes— e.g., manslaughter or robbery—and violations of military orders committed by both soldiers and civilians in territories under U.S. military government. Id. at 595–96, 126 S.Ct. 2749. Second, military commissions may try ordinary crimes and violations of military orders committed by soldiers and civilians in territory under martial law—as much of our country was during the Civil War. See id. at 595, 126 S.Ct. 2749; William Winthrop, Military Law and Precedents 832–34 (rev.2d ed.1920). Third, and “utterly different” from the first two categories, military commissions may try offenses against the law of war. Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 596, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (plurality opinion) (citation omitted). It is undisputed that the commission that tried Bahlul is of the third type: a law-of-war military commission. A military commission convened pursuant to the 2006 MCA must be composed of at least five “members,” who are qualified active duty officers of the armed forces and play a role similar to a petit jury. 10 U.S.C. §§ 948i, 948m. A military judge presides over the trial. Id. § 948j.

In 2008, military prosecutors amended the charges against Bahlul to allege three of the offenses enumerated in the 2006 MCA based...

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