Saudi pleads guilty to terror charges, could get out of Guantánamo in 2018 -
Guantánamo plea deal unveils new trial strategy
About Ahmed Muhammed Haza al Darbi
Born: Jan. 9, 1975 Taif, Saudi Arabia.
Captured: June 2002 Azerbaijan.
Arrived Guantánamo: Aug. 5, 2002.
French oil tanker Limburg attacked: Oct. 6, 2002.
Lawyers: Navy Lt. Theresa Champ, Ramzi Kassem, law professor at the City
University of New York.
Prosecutors: Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, LTC Michael Hosang, Army Maj.
Charlotte M. Emery.
Judge: Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred.
By Carol Rosenberg
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- A long-held Saudi captive pleaded guilty
Thursday to terror charges for serving as a personal shopper and facilitator
for al-Qaida militants plotting suicide bombings of ships in the Arabian
Under the plea deal, Ahmad al Darbi, 39, could go to a Saudi Arabian prison
in four years, serve five more years and then get out for good behavior,
said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale. Formal sentencing will be held in August
2017. Meantime, he must cooperate with the government and testify at other
Guantánamo war crimes trials.
Darbi appeared in court in a white button-down shirt and green tie for the
proceedings. His attorney, Ramzi Kassem, announced that Darbi pleaded guilty
to all the non-capital charges. They include terrorism, attacking civilians,
attacking civilian objects and hazarding a vessel.
In 2002, according to his charge sheet, Darbi bought navigational equipment
and some vessels, mostly in the United Arab Emirates. They were intended to
be used in an attack on a civilian oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in an
al-Qaida campaign to damage the global economy.
Darbi also admitted to helping Yemenis get training to attack one or more
civilian oil tankers.
Some of those resources ended up being used in an attack off Yemen on a
Malaysia-bound, French-flagged oil tanker, the Limburg, on Oct. 6, 2002 —
four months after Darbi's capture. A Bulgarian crew member, Atanas Atanasov,
39, was killed.
The judge, Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred, systematically led the Saudi
captive through his plea agreement in a morning session. In response to a
series of questions, Darbi agreed he didn't have to be present at a crime to
be responsible for it.
"Obviously you were not there and were somewhere else," the judge said,
noting it was a "a theory of vicarious liability" case.
Reports from Yemen last year indicated that U.S. drone strikes killed two
other men also blamed for the Limburg attack.
Darbi's cooperation agreement suggests he could be used as a witness in the
death-penalty trial of another Saudi – Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, accused of
plotting the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen that killed 17
American sailors as well as the Limburg bombing.
"Even if Darbi is not brought in to testify against Nashiri, things at
Guantánamo Bay are heating up," said Heritage Foundation national security
expert Cully Simson, a former Pentagon official who had oversight of
The deal shows a flexing of the reach of the war court into international
affairs. Prosecutors had argued that, because the goal of al-Qaida's Arabian
Sea attacks was to damage the world economy, had it succeeded the American
people would have suffered.
"He will likely spend between 9 and 15 additional years in confinement,"
according to a statement from the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark
Martins. "Following sentencing, which will occur about three and a half
years from now, it is possible Mr. al Darbi will be repatriated to the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to serve the remainder of his sentence to
confinement in a Saudi Arabian prison."
He credited the role of the State Department's Special Envoy for Guantánamo
Closure, Clifford Sloan, as "pivotal to the efforts to coordinate assurances
from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia within the context of this plea agreement."
Darbi is at times described as the brother in law of one of the 9/11
hijackers, Khalid al Mihdhar, who crashed American Airlines flight 77 into
the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. In 1998, according to Darbi's classified
U.S. military profile, the two men married Yemeni sisters in a "double
Darbi looked fit, chunky in fact, as he sat in court — alternately answering
the judge in English and Arabic — after a year-long hunger strike that has
simmered in the prison camps. It was his first war court appearance since
President Barack Obama took office.
He becomes the sixth Guantánamo captive to plead guilty at the military
commissions, the fifth during the Obama administration, in a deal to go home
from the prison in southeast Cuba. He's also the first Saudi convicted of
terror charges at Guantánamo.
Darbi was represented by his long-time defense attorney, Kassem, a City
University of New York law professor who came to the case during the Bush
administration, and Navy Lt. Theresa Champ.
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