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Jury resumes deliberations over Bin Laden driver

Latest update : 2008-08-05

The six military jurors handpicked by the Pentagon are still deliberating following the two-week war crimes trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden's former driver. The trial, held at Guantanamo Bay, has been blasted by rights groups as unfair.

A military jury resumed deliberations Tuesday in the war crimes trial of Osama bin Laden's former driver, the first test of the controversial tribunals created by President George W. Bush.
   
Six military jurors, who were handpicked by the Pentagon, began considering the case Monday after a two-week trial.
   
Prosecutors alleged Salim Hamdan was involved in conspiracy and provided material support to terrorism, while defense attorneys painted him as a lowly cog in the wheel with no involvement in terror plots.
   
The Yemeni national, who is about 40 years old, allegedly met bin Laden in the Afghan city of Kandahar in 1996 and "ultimately became a bodyguard and personal driver" for the Al-Qaeda leader, the indictment said.
   
He faces a possible sentence of life in prison if at least four of the six-member jury find him guilty. Even if found innocent, he might not be freed, since the US military reserves the right to indefinitely hold "enemy combatants."
   
Hamdan's case was the first to undergo a full trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and will be an important test of the military commission system set up in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, which rights groups have blasted as unfair.
   
Prosecutors said Hamdan received training in the use of rifles, handguns and machine guns in an Al-Qaeda camp and also "delivered weapons, ammunition or other supplies to Al-Qaeda members and associates."
   
"A plethora of facts that shows you how he committed overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy," said John Murphy, a Justice Department prosecutor, in closing arguments.
   
"Hamdan was Al-Qaeda, every fact in this case points to that," said Murphy, describing Hamdan as an "Al-Qaeda warrior."
   
Lawyers for Hamdan, who has already spent six years behind bars at Guantanamo, argued that Hamdan was an insignificant figure while employed by bin Laden from 1998 to 2001.
   
"This is a classic case of guilt by association," Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, an assigned military defense lawyer for Hamdan, told the court.
   
"Mr. Hamdan is not an Al-Qaeda warrior, he is not Al-Qaeda's last line of defense," Mizer said. "He's not even an Al-Qaeda member."
   
"You should not punish the general's driver today with the crimes of the general."
   
Joseph McMillan, a civilian defense lawyer for Hamdan, pressed the same point in closing arguments.
   
"The general is a war criminal, and therefore the driver also is? It didn't work that way in World War II -- Hitler's driver was never charged with a war crime -- and it doesn't work that way today," McMillan said.
   
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch slammed the proceeding as marred by irregularities, making it all but impossible for Hamdan to get a fair hearing.
   
"A trial that depends on handicapping the defense can't possibly be fair," said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.
   
"The military judge tried at times to mitigate the commission's most unjust rules, but the flaws in the system won out."
   
The Bush administration hopes the first war crimes trial since World War II will show critics at home and abroad that the Guantanamo tribunals, which operate under different rules than regular civilian or military courts, offer the accused a fair process.
   
The military commissions were invalidated in 2006 by the Supreme Court, only to be restored a few months later by the US Congress.
   
They have since been struck by a series of legal battles and hitches --  including a June Supreme Court decision that granted foreign terror suspects captured abroad the right to challenge their detention in US courts -- that had pushed back the opening of Hamdan's lawsuit, and perhaps others to come.
   
Of the 260 detainees currently in Guantanamo, only around 20 have been charged with a crime and the government plans to put only 60 to 80 of them on trial.
   
Several other Guantanamo inmates are also facing trial in Guantanamo including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti of Pakistani origin who is considered the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
   
 

Date created : 2008-08-05

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