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Bin Laden's former driver awaits verdict at Guantanamo

Latest update : 2008-08-05

A jury began deliberations Monday in the trial of Osama bin Laden's former driver, the first Guantanamo inmate to face a full-scale trial before the special military tribunals created by President George W. Bush.


GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE - Osama bin Laden's
driver performed vital services that enabled "the world's most
dangerous terrorist" to launch attacks, a prosecutor told jurors
before they began deliberations on Monday in the first U.S.
war crimes trial at Guantanamo.
 

But defense lawyers for Yemeni captive Salim Hamdan argued
he was merely a hired laborer akin to the defense contractors
who provide services to U.S. forces. "Changing lug nuts and oil
filters" were hardly war crimes, they said..
 

Hamdan was not even trusted to know where he was driving
bin Laden until after a convoy departed, Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer,
his U.S. military defense lawyer, told the jury of six U.S.
military officers.
 

Hamdan, who is about 38, was captured in November 2001 in
Afghanistan, where he had worked in bin Laden's motor pool
since 1996. He could face life in prison if convicted of
conspiring with al Qaeda and supporting terrorism in the first
U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War Two.
 

Even if he is acquitted, or sentenced to less than the six
years he has already spent in captivity, the United States says
it still can hold him as an "unlawful enemy combatant" until
the end of the war on terrorism declared by President George W.
Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks.
 

Hamdan says he drove for bin Laden because he needed the
$200 monthly wage but denies joining al Qaeda, pledging loyalty
to bin Laden or participating in attacks.
 

Prosecutors portrayed Hamdan as a key conspirator who
enthusiastically drove and protected the al Qaeda leader,
knowing that bin Laden's goals included murdering Americans and
taking down Western nations.
 

"He's an al Qaeda warrior. He has wounded - and the people
he has worked with - have wounded the world," prosecutor John
Murphy said.
 

The prosecutor said Hamdan ferried al Qaeda weapons and
served as bin Laden's bodyguard. He was assigned to drive him
to safety if his convoy came under attack, providing the last
line of defense for the man at "the top of this terror
pyramid," Murphy said.
 

"These terror attacks could not have been carried out
without the ability to transport the leadership before, during
and after the attacks and allow them to kill on another day,"
he said.
 

The defense recounted testimony that Hamdan was bored by
bin Laden's speeches and that when captured at a checkpoint in
Afghanistan, he ran and hid in a ditch rather than fire the
AK-47 he carried. Afterward, Hamdan led U.S. forces on a tour
of Kandahar, pointing out al Qaeda safe houses, Mizer said.
 

He said Hamdan had cooperated with U.S. interrogators, and
alluded to secret testimony that journalists were not allowed
to hear, apparently referring to an offer Hamdan had made to
help U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
 

"You know what happened, how we squandered that
opportunity," Mizer told the jurors.
 

Mizer also recounted written testimony from accused Sept.
11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who described his fellow
Guantanamo prisoner as a primitive Bedouin only interested in
bin Laden's money and unfit to plan and execute attacks.
 

Defense lawyers portrayed the prosecution's case as guilt
by association and said Hamdan was no more involved in al Qaeda
attacks than were bin Laden's cooks, farmers and goatherds.
 

"Hitler's driver was never charged with a war crime and it
doesn't work that way today," defense lawyer Joseph McMillan
said.
 

Hamdan's trial is the first to be conducted by the
controversial tribunals the Bush administration create to
prosecute non-U.S. citizens outside the civilian and military
court system.
 

An Australian former captive, al Qaeda trainee David Hicks,
avoided trial at Guantanamo by pleading guilty to providing
material support for terrorism and finished his nine-month
sentence in his homeland last year.
 

At least four of the six military jurors must agree by
secret, written ballot in order to return a guilty verdict for
Hamdan.

Date created : 2008-08-05

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