Guantanamo jury gives al Qaida cook 14-year sentence

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A military jury handed down a 14-year war crimes sentence against an al Qaida cook and driver Wednesday, unaware that prosecutors made a secret deal that will reportedly send him home much earlier.

The military commission of 10 U.S. military officers deliberated just over an hour at the $12 million maximum-security courtroom at Camp Justice to issue the for-the-record sentence against Ibrahim al Qosi, 50, of Sudan.

Earlier, Qosi's military judge Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul instructed them that they could sentence him to anywhere between 12 and 15 years at Guantanamo because he pleaded guilty to conspiring with and supporting al Qaida on July 7.

Volunteer defense attorney Paul Reichler of Washington, D.C., who made no mention of the deal he sealed with the Pentagon, urged the jury to return the minimum.

"We wouldn't send Al Capone's cook to jail for cooking for Al Capone," he said. "Here the law does make it a crime to cook. We accept that."

This week's three-day sentencing hearing capped the first plea deal of the Obama administration and sought to close the book on one of the first captives brought here when the prison camps opened in January 2002. Qosi was also among the first captives charged in August 2004 when the Bush administration unveiled its first attempt at a war court, which the Roberts Supreme Court rule unconstitutional.

The al Arabiya satellite channel reported last month that Qosi was secretly promised he'd return to his native Sudan after two more years here. War court spokesmen refuse to confirm it.

But, under the formula for the first war crimes tribunals since World War II, a jury of junior-to field-grade American officers gets to decide his for-the-record sentence.

Human Rights Watch observer Andrew Prasow, a former war court defense attorney, called the proceedings "a farce."

"The fact that the actual plea agreement is secret calls into question how open and transparent these proceedings really are."

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