Bin Laden's former driver convicted of supporting terrorism

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guards in front of Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay
Image: US Navy.

Wednesday, an American military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba found Salim Hamdan, a Yemini and Osama bin Laden's former driver guilty of supporting terrorism.

Today, the jury handed down a sentence of 66 months, with credit for time already served. This means that Hamdan could be released in five months. Prosecutors had sought a thirty-year sentence.

Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman said: "He will serve out the rest of his sentence. At that time he will still be considered an enemy combatant, but he will be eligible for review by an Administrative Review Board."

After hearing the sentence Hamdan said to the jurors, "I would like to apologise one more time to all the members and I would like to thank you for what you have done for me." He smiled and thanked those in the courtroom as he left.

The ten-day trial was the first to test the Bush Administration's military-tribunal system for people suspected of terrorism. The trial allowed evidence which would not be allowed in either a civilian or a military court, including hearsay as evidence for the conviction of Hamdan.

The original charges to Hamdan included five counts of supporting terrorism, but the judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, ordered only one count factor into the sentencing. Allred summarized the charge as "driving Mr. bin Laden around Afghanistan".

Hamdan will have at least two appeals — one to the person appointed to oversee the tribunals, and one to a military appeals court — and possibly more at a later date.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Reuters that the military plans to move forward with trials for 20 other suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, including five facing execution if convicted in connection with planning the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C..

The United States has tried Hamdan before, once being appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a 2006 case before the court, the court found the previous tribunal system lacked "the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949". Two cases were dropped before the current one was tried.