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Bin Laden Driver Headed For Trial at Guantanamo

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - July 21, 2008
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Bin Laden Driver Headed For Trial at Guantanamo
by: Jim Loney 
Reuters

A Yemeni likely to be the first person tried before the 
U.S. war crimes court at Guantanamo naval base was more 
than just a driver for Osama bin Laden, U.S. agents said 
on Thursday. 

Salim Hamdan transported weapons and said he swore 
allegiance to and got his paycheck directly from the 
al Qaeda leader, the agents told a judge in pretrial 
hearings at the isolated U.S. base in Cuba. Hamdan 
was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. 

Lawyers for the accused terrorist facing the first U.S. 
war crimes tribunals since World War Two say Hamdan was 
just a driver and mechanic in bin Laden's motor pool who 
did the job because he needed the $200 monthly paycheck. 

In testimony stretching over two days, FBI and other 
federal agents said Hamdan pointed them to the location 
of bin Laden's safe houses and training camps in 
Afghanistan. 

"Salim described pledging a sacred oath of allegiance to 
Osama bin Laden," said Robert McFadden, an agent with the 
Naval Criminal Investigative Service who interrogated 
Hamdan at Guantanamo in 2003. 

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He pointed to Hamdan and bin Laden together in a photograph 
shown to the court, noting both carried rifles. 

Hamdan is scheduled to go to trial on Monday on charges of 
conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. A 
federal court in Washington rejected efforts by his lawyers 
to have the trial delayed on Thursday. Hamdan, who is in 
his late 30s, could face life in prison. 

The U.S. war crimes court set up to try terrorism suspects 
after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States 
has been deemed unfair by human and legal rights groups. 

Hamdan's attorneys had argued that a landmark U.S. Supreme 
Court ruling last month gave Guantanamo prisoners -- about 
265 at the moment, many of them held for years without 
being charged -- fundamental constitutional rights. 

But U.S. District Judge James Robertson backed the 
government's argument that a 2006 law supported by U.S. 
President George W. Bush allows such challenges only after 
a trial. 

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Motions Still Pending

Hamdan's lawyers still have legal motions pending with the 
Guantanamo court to halt the trial or exclude evidence but 
said they expected the proceeding to go ahead next week. 

"We're disappointed in the court's decision but we look 
forward to, in the military commissions process, defending 
Mr. Hamdan and proving he is in fact a driver and a 
mechanic," Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, Hamdan's military lawyer, 
said. 

Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the military judge, has denied 
several defense motions this week, one on the grounds 
that the charges against Hamdan were created after the 
alleged crimes were committed, one on hearsay evidence 
and another on a violation of the U.S. Constitution's 
equal protection clause. 

The defense still has a motion pending on Hamdan's right 
to a speedy trial. On that issue, prosecutor John Murphy 
told the war court that Hamdan, who has been held for 
nearly seven years since his capture in Afghanistan, had 
no such right. 

"As an unlawful enemy combatant, he can be held for the 
duration of hostilities," he said. 

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Hamdan, who attended court in the traditional garb of 
white headdress and white robe, over which he wears a 
Western-style beige suit jacket, told the court this 
week he had been put in isolation, deprived of sleep 
before interrogations and sexually humiliated by a 
female agent. 

Nine U.S. agents who testified on Tuesday and Wednesday 
all denied they had witnessed any abuse of Hamdan. One 
said he knew Hamdan had been in solitary confinement at 
Guantanamo. 

The U.S. agents described Hamdan -- who allegedly helped 
bin Laden escape Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 
2001 -- as cooperative. They said he helped them by showing 
them the al Qaeda leader's houses and training camps and 
drawing maps of his movements after the 9-11 attacks. 

"He said bin Laden paid him (personally)," agent Dwight 
Locklear said. 

-------

Editing by Michael Christie and Patricia Zengerle.

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