Hamdan Seen as 'Not Fit' for Terror

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By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Aug. 1 -- Osama bin Laden's former driver was a "primitive" chauffeur and mechanic who "was not fit to plan or execute" terrorist attacks, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks told jurors in writing Friday at the driver's military trial.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 architect, wrote that Salim Ahmed Hamdan was a low-level support staffer who never joined al-Qaeda and did not share bin Laden's ideology. Hamdan is on trial in the first U.S. military commission since World War II. His lawyers rested their case Friday, and closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.

"He did not play any role. He was not a soldier, he was a driver," Mohammed said in answers to written questions from Hamdan's lawyers that were relayed to the six military jurors. "His nature was more primitive (Bedouin) person and far from civilization. He was not fit to plan or execute."

The testimony provided another tantalizing glimpse inside the mind of Mohammed, who has been charged in the most devastating terrorist attack in U.S. history and has been a figure of intrigue since his arrest in 2003. He sketched out a vision of al-Qaeda as a group whose members also have "wives and children and schools" and said that anyone who thinks a mere driver would be involved in attacks "is a fool."

Attorneys for Hamdan, who is charged with ferrying weapons for al-Qaeda as part of a terrorism conspiracy, had wanted Mohammed to testify live in court at the U.S. detention facility here. They had told jurors there was "a significant chance" they would hear from the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

But Mohammed, after answering written questions, refused to meet with Hamdan's lawyers and declined to appear in court. His written remarks back up the defense's argument that Hamdan was a mere chauffeur uninvolved in terrorism. But it is uncertain if a military jury will take the word of an accused al-Qaeda leader.

The statements of Mohammed, who first appeared in court in June and railed at the military commission system that is expected to try him as well, revealed no lack of self-confidence. He called himself the "executive director of 9/11" and said he oversaw all al-Qaeda cells operating outside Afghanistan. He dismissed drivers such as Hamdan, a Yemeni father of two with a fourth-grade education, as mostly "illiterate."

His statement said Americans do not understand that al-Qaeda is a multifaceted terrorist organization that also employs a support network of professionals, such as teachers and computer engineers. "We are not gangs," he wrote.

"As the American Army (we) have drivers, cooks, crewmen and legal personal," Mohammed wrote, according to a translation from his original Arabic that was provided to the jurors. "We also, are human beings . . . we have interests in life. Our people have wives and children and schools. . . . You can not understand terrorism and Al-Qaeda from 9/11 operation."

He said al-Qaeda has been able to carry out its attacks successfully because of the group's diffuse structure and penchant for secrecy.

"One of the reasons for the success of the outside operations is the secrecy of the operations," Mohammed wrote. "So many of (bin Laden's) inner circles have no knowledge of what he was planning and so many of Al-Qaeda's members and even the trainers at the military camps do not have any knowledge of the works of the outside cells. That includes the civilian employees."

Hamdan, whom prosecution witnesses have described as personally close to bin Laden, was a mere cog in the al-Qaeda structure, the self-proclaimed terrorist leader wrote. "He was a driver and auto mechanic . . . he was not at all a military man," Mohammed said. "He is fit to change trucks' tires, change oil filters, wash and clean cars, and fasten cargo in pick up trucks."

Mohammed also attempted to shed light on what Hamdan was doing when he was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001. Prosecution witnesses testified that Hamdan had two shoulder-fired missiles in his car when he was arrested and that he told interrogators he transported weapons for al-Qaeda.

After the United States attacked Afghanistan following Sept. 11, Hamdan's job was to transport "Al-Qaeda's families" out of harm's way, Mohammed said. He would know, Mohammed added, because "I was personally responsible for transporting and getting out all families from Afghanistan to Pakistan."

A statement by another detainee also said Hamdan was not involved.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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