Pentagon lawyers: First Amendment protects Al Qaida propaganda

Pentagon defense lawyers this week appealed the war crimes conviction of Osama bin Laden's media secretary at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on free speech grounds.

They argued that filmmaker Ali Hamza al Bahlul of Yemen was denied several constitutional protections at his military commission trial, which found him guilty of three war crimes on Nov. 3.

"Mr. al Bahlul is not a sympathetic defendant. He embraces an ideology that glorifies violence, justifies terrorism and opposes constitutional democracy,'' said the 50-page appeal, filed Tuesday with the U.S. Court for Military Commission Review.

"As offensive as it may be, [Bahlul's film work] is speech that falls within the core protections of the First Amendment, which forbids the prosecution of `the thoughts, the beliefs, the ideals of the accused.' ''

Prosecutors argued at the four-day no-contest trial that Bahlul incited suicide bombers before the 9/11 attacks by producing a crude al Qaeda recruiting film. The two-hour video spliced footage of fiery bin Laden speeches with the aftermath of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors off Aden, Yemen.

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