By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, July 22 -- A former driver for Osama bin Laden had two shoulder-fired missiles in his car when he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, along with a piece of paper signed by the leader of the Taliban, a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier testified Tuesday.
The soldier, identified only as Sgt. Maj. A, told jurors in the military trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan that the paper signed by Mohammad Omar allowed al-Qaeda members to move freely in Afghanistan and to carry weapons.
The soldier acknowledged on cross-examination that the card signed by Omar, now a fugitive, did not have Hamdan's name on it.
Hamdan is on trial in the first U.S. military commission since World War II. The Special Forces soldier was one of the first witnesses against him in the long-awaited proceeding.
Brandishing a sample green SA7 missile, the same type of weapon allegedly found in Hamdan's light-colored Toyota, prosecutor Omar Ashmawy asked the witness: "What part of this kills people?"
"The tube with the rocket," answered the soldier. He said pink Arabic "code cards" that mentioned the words "nuclear" and "biological" also were found in Hamdan's vehicle.
Hamdan is charged with ferrying weapons for al-Qaeda as part of a terrorism conspiracy.
The testimony before a jury of six military officers followed opening statements in the case. Prosecutors told jurors that Hamdan was an al-Qaeda member who supported terrorist acts and was aware of an impending strike just before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"You will not see evidence from the government that the accused ever fired a shot," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Stone. "But what you will see is testimony regarding the accused's role in al-Qaeda, how he came to be a member of al-Qaeda and how he helped, facilitated and provided material support for that organization."
Stone also indicated that Hamdan may have known the target of the fourth hijacked airplane on Sept. 11, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field. The plane, he said, "would have hit the dome. . . . Virtually no one knew that intended target, but the accused knew."
Prosecutors later elaborated that Stone was referring to something Hamdan said he heard bin Laden say after Sept. 11. They would not say if "the dome" meant the U.S. Capitol. The commission that investigated the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon concluded that the intended target of United Flight 93 was the Capitol or the White House.
Defense lawyers for Hamdan, a Yemeni in his late 30s, portrayed him as a salaried employee who never joined al-Qaeda and never shared bin Laden's extremist views.
"He worked for wages -- he didn't wage attacks on America," said Harry Schneider, one of Hamdan's civilian attorneys. "He had a job because he had to earn a living, not because he had a jihad against America."
The military judge in the case ruled Monday night that prosecutors cannot use as evidence some statements Hamdan gave interrogators because they were obtained under "highly coercive" conditions while he was a captive in Afghanistan.
But the judge, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, declined a defense request to suppress admissions made by Hamdan after he arrived at Guantanamo. Prosecutors on Tuesday began to introduce evidence from several of those interrogations.
The jurors include an Army colonel who said in court Monday she was "obviously upset" that her college roommate was in the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks; an Army lieutenant colonel who is an expert on radical Islam; and a Marine lieutenant colonel who said he had read that Hamdan was "Osama bin Laden's driver."
Legal experts said it is difficult to find objective jurors from a U.S. military that is engaged in a global battle against terrorism. But prosecutors said they are certain the panel will be fair.
Staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.