Former Driver for Bin Laden Seeks Delay in Military Trial

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 2008

Lawyers representing Osama bin Laden's former driver asked a federal judge yesterday to halt his fast-approaching military trial so they may have time to continue challenging the legality of the military commission system.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been fighting his detention in federal court since 2004. Declared an enemy combatant by a military tribunal, Hamdan is scheduled to go to trial before a military commission on July 21. He would be the first terrorism suspect tried by one of the commissions, a system established by Congress in 2006.

In legal papers filed yesterday, his lawyers asked U.S. District Judge James Robertson to delay the military process and argued that Hamdan should be allowed to first contest his detention in federal court. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that terrorism suspects at Guantanamo have the right to challenge their detention before federal judges.

"The entire system now needs to be reworked, and we're asking the judge to create enough time to permit that process to unfold instead of rushing a dubious process forward," Neal Katyal, a lawyer representing Hamdan, said in an interview.

Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin said in an e-mail: "Our position is that the military commission proceedings are constitutional."

The Supreme Court's recent decision "did nothing to affect military commission trials, and the commission trials should go forward without interruption," Ablin added.

The legal arguments in Hamdan's case are occurring as federal judges gear up to analyze motions and hold hearings in about 200 lawsuits filed by Guantanamo detainees who have challenged their detention and status as enemy combatants.

U.S. District Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday for scores of Guantanamo cases. All but one of the District Court's judges, Judge Richard J. Leon, have transferred their Guantanamo lawsuits to Hogan so that he can rule on common procedural and legal issues. Hogan is not presiding over Hamdan's suit, which is being handled by Robertson.

Hamdan, who was picked up in Afghanistan, has been held at Guantanamo since 2002. In 2006, he won a Supreme Court decision that forced the Bush administration to abandon earlier plans for a trial.

But bin Laden's former driver does not think the new system created by Congress is fair. At a hearing last month, Hamdan told a military judge that he would be boycotting the commission process. The next day, he slept through a hearing.

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