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France Convicts 5 Ex-Guantanamo Inmates

  International  -   POSTED: 2007/12/19 09:07

A court Wednesday convicted five former inmates from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of having links to terrorist groups, while acquitting a sixth man.

The five were convicted of "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise," a broad charge frequently used in France. Although the court handed them one-year prison sentences, none of them will be returning behind bars.

The men all served provisional sentences upon their return to France that counted toward their new sentences. By the time the trial ended, all had been freed.

The court followed the recommendations of Prosecutor Sonya Djemni-Wagner, who said in her arguments Dec. 11 that she did not support "the Guantanamo system" and the men's "abnormal detention there."

"None of them should have been held on that base, in defiance of international law, and have had to go through what they went through," she said.

Requesting convictions and one-year sentences for the five, she said they should, however, be convicted because they used phony identity papers and visas to knowingly "integrate terrorist structures" in Afghanistan.

The men — Brahim Yadel, Khaled ben Mustafa, Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali, Imad Kanouni and Ridouane Khalid — all insisted during the trial that they were innocent. Kanouni was acquitted.

The verdict had originally been expected in September 2006 but was postponed. At the time, the court said it needed to seek more information about secret interrogations of the suspects by French intelligence officers at the American base.

The suspects' lawyers had complained that the men were questioned by agents of France's DST counterintelligence service outside the framework of international law. Information about the interrogations did not surface until the trial was already under way, when the newspaper Liberation published a classified document about them.

Seven French citizens were captured in or near Afghanistan by U.S. forces in late 2001, held at Guantanamo, and then handed over to French authorities in 2004 and 2005. One was freed immediately and found to have no ties to terrorism, while the others were released later as investigations continued into their cases.

In court, the men recounted their stays in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 before their capture. Five of them said they had stayed in military training camps in Afghanistan, while Kanouni said his journey there was for spiritual reasons.


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