The case against Abdul Zahir means that 2 per cent of the roughly 500 foreign terrorism suspects held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been charged with a crime.

On Friday, prosecutors accused Zahir of working as a translator and money man for the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and the al-Qaida network, and implicated him in a 2002 grenade attack that injured three journalists. He was captured in July 2002.

His case was referred for trial to a tribunal of US military officers, formally called a commission. No trial date was set.

These commission proceedings are the first such war crimes trials conducted by the US since the second world war.

The US charged five other detainees in November and four in 2004. Not one of their trials has been completed.

The Supreme Court is expected in March to hear a challenge to George Bush's power to create military commissions to put Guantanamo prisoners on trial for war crimes.

The Pentagon has promised "full and fair" trials and has not sought the death penalty against any of the defendants, including Zahir.

Rights issues

Human rights activists and military defence lawyers have criticised the commission rules, saying they favour prosecutors, allow evidence obtained through torture and hearsay and permit only limited independent judicial review. Critics also note that the Pentagon has never said it would actually free a defendant if he were acquitted.

Jumana Musa, an Amnesty International official, who attended pre-trial hearings in two other commission cases at the base last week, said: "There's just no way to have a fair trial.
 

"There's just no way to have a fair trial"

Jumana Musa, an Amnesty International official

"They continue to charge people with things that were not previously crimes or not previously recognised as war crimes in a process that didn't previously exist."

A document outlining the three charges against Zahir said he also was known by the alias Abdul Bari. It said in 1997 he worked as a translator and money courier for the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The charge sheet said in early 2002 he was part of a "terrorist cell" that planned explosives attacks against US forces and foreign civilians in Afghanistan. It said Zahir and two others threw a grenade through the window of a vehicle in Zormat, Afghanistan, injuring three journalists.

It said al-Qaida gave him $50,000 "to fund terrorist acts against coalition forces". The document said Zahir also bought a photocopy machine "to mass produce anti-American leaflets".

The Pentagon did not provide Zahir's age.

Detainees

Pentagon officials said only 50 to 75 of the Guantanamo prisoners were likely ever to be charged.

Air Force Major Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "There is a mistaken belief that all the detainees at Guantanamo are going to be tried by military commission, and that's not the case. Only those whose actions rise to the level of war crimes are potential candidates for trial by military commission.
 
Shavers said the primary reason prisoners are held at Guantanamo is to prevent them from returning to the battlefield.

In addition to the 10 already charged, President George Bush has deemed four other detainees eligible for trial by military commission.