Bin Laden driver convicted, faces life in prison
Published Wednesday, August 6, 2008 5:40PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 8:45PM EDT
A military jury has convicted Osama bin Laden's former driver of supporting terrorism, a ruling that could see the Yemeni national sentenced to life in prison.
The Pentagon-selected jury of six military officers cleared Salim Hamdan, 38, of conspiracy charges, but found him guilty of supporting terrorism by driving bin Laden around Afghanistan in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
He was captured in November 2001 and transferred in 2002 to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where his trial was held.
The military claimed he had two missiles in his vehicle when he was captured. His lawyers had said he wasn't a terrorist, arguing he barely made US$200 a month as a driver.
The jury deliberated for eight hours over three days before reaching a split verdict. Hamdan put his head in his hands and wept when the verdict came down.
The Globe and Mail's Omar El Akkad told CTV Newsnet the jury's split verdict shows that it did not completely agree with either the defence or prosecution arguments.
"It looks as though the jury did not fully buy the defence argument that Mr. Hamdan was just a driver, a low level employee who had no idea what was going on," he said.
"On the other hand they did not fully buy the prosecution's argument that he was a central figure in the al Qaeda mechanism."
U.S. officials have maintained Hamdan's military trial adhered to international standards.
"This military judge is to be commended for providing a fair and internationally legally sufficient trial for the accused and the government -- regardless of the ultimate verdict," Charles Stimson, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs told The Associated Press.
"Mr. Hamdan did receive a full and fair trial," added Commander J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesperson.
But critics said the entire process was unfair. Hamdan's attorneys argued:
- the judge admitted evidence that would not have been allowed by a U.S. civilian or military court
- Hamdan's interrogations were coerced by tactics such as sleep deprivation and solitary confinement
"Never in the history of the law of war has a military tribunal been convened to punish such a low-level offender for such low-level charges," American Civil Liberties staff attorney Ben Wizner said.
Jonathan Tracy, a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute of Military Justice, said military commissions like the one which convicted Hamden are not appropriate for Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
"It doesn't make sense to use this deeply flawed system," Tracy said.
"The appropriate avenue would be to use the federal court system for certain detainees and use a court martial for other detainees -- depending on what category the detainee falls in."
International human rights activists had called Hamdan's court case little more than a "show trial." Even if he had been found not guilty, he would have remained indefinitely in U.S. custody as an enemy combatant.
With a report from CTV's Scott Laurie and files from The Associated Press