August 7, 2008
Split Decision in 1st Terror Trial at Gitmo — Bin Laden’s Driver Faces Life for Aiding Terrorism
By Mike Melia
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The conviction of Osama bin Laden's driver by a U.S. military court after a 10-day trial provides an indication of what to expect as dozens more Guantanamo prisoners go to court: shifting charges, secret testimony - and quick verdicts.
Salim Hamdan held his head in his hands and wept Wednesday as the six-member military jury declared the Yemeni guilty of aiding terrorism, which could bring a maximum life sentence.
But in a split decision, the jury in America's first war-crimes trial since World War II cleared Hamdan of two charges of conspiracy.
Deputy White House spokesman Tony Fratto applauded what he called "a fair trial" and said prosecutors will now proceed with other war crimes trials at the isolated U.S. base in southeast Cuba. Prosecutors intend to try about 80 Guantanamo detainees for war crimes, including 19 already charged.
But defense lawyers said their clients' rights were denied by an unfair process, hastily patched together after the Supreme Court rulings that previous tribunal systems violated U.S. and international law.
Under the military commission, the judge allowed secret testimony and hearsay evidence. Hamdan was not judged by a jury of his peers and he received no Miranda warning about his rights.
The five-man, one-woman jury convicted Hamdan on five counts of supporting terrorism, accepting the prosecution argument that Hamdan aided terrorism by becoming a member of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and serving as bin Laden's armed bodyguard and driver while knowing that the al-Qaida leader was plotting attacks against the U.S.
But he was found not guilty on three other counts alleging he knew that his work would be used for terrorism and that he provided surface-to-air missiles to al-Qaida.
He also was cleared of two charges of conspiracy alleging he was part of the al-Qaida effort to attack the United States.
Originally published by Mike Melia Associated Press .
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