- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) | America’s first war-crimes trial since World War II went to the jury on Monday as a panel of six U.S. military officers began deliberating whether to send Osama bin Laden’s former driver away for life.

The jurors, who were hand-picked by the Pentagon, were reviewing evidence from a two-week trial at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base that has become the first full test of the Bush administration’s system for prosecuting terror suspects.

Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni held here since May 2002, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

In closing arguments, prosecutors said Mr. Hamdan’s service to the al Qaeda chief for five years in Afghanistan helped his boss execute terrorist plots including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.

“He is an al Qaeda warrior,” Justice Department prosecutor John Murphy said, pointing to the detainee who wore a white robe and a tan sports coat.

Defense lawyers counter that Mr. Hamdan was merely a member of bin Laden’s motor pool. His Pentagon-appointed attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, said in closing arguments that his client never joined al Qaeda and had no part in planning attacks.

“If every garage mechanic and driver knew the details and was involved in the planning of the attack, it never would have happened,” Cmdr. Mizer said.

The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, told the jurors that four of the six must find Mr. Hamdan guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” to convict him.

Even if they find him innocent, Mr. Hamdan may not be released. The military retains the right to hold “enemy combatants” considered a threat to the United States - even those cleared of charges by the tribunals.

Most of the evidence against Mr. Hamdan came from U.S. federal and military agents who interrogated him in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo, including one who said Mr. Hamdan swore an oath of allegiance to the terrorist leader and expressed “uncontrollable enthusiasm” for his cause.

Capt. Allred urged jurors to evaluate that evidence in light of a U.S. policy that prevented interrogators from advising Mr. Hamdan of his right to avoid incriminating himself.

Mr. Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan in November 2001 with two surface-to-air missiles in the car. Prosecutors accused him of transporting weapons for al Qaeda and evacuating bin Laden to safety after learning he was about to launch terrorist “operations,” including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The military has charged 21 of the roughly 265 men held at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of terrorism or links to al Qaeda or the Taliban. Military prosecutors say they plan trials for about 80 inmates.

So far, only one Guantanamo inmate has been convicted. Australian David Hicks reached a plea agreement that sent him home to serve a nine-month prison sentence.

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