Hamdan Guilty of Terror Support
Thursday, August 7, 2008
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Aug. 6 -- A military jury on Wednesday found a former driver for Osama bin Laden guilty of supporting terrorism but not of conspiring in terrorist attacks, handing the Bush administration a partial victory in the first U.S. war crimes trial in a half a century.
The verdict, reached after about eight hours of deliberations over three days, only intensified the debate over whether Salim Ahmed Hamdan's conviction was preordained in an unfair system -- or whether military trials are appropriate for people accused of committing heinous acts against the United States.
The administration seized on the acquittal to defend its military justice system against accusations that it was politicized and drawn up to ensure convictions. Pentagon and White House officials said they are satisfied with the result.
"We're pleased that Salim Hamdan received a fair trial," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "The military commission system is a fair and appropriate legal process for prosecuting detainees."
Despite the partial acquittal, Hamdan still faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Jurors are to reconvene Thursday to determine his sentence.
With the conclusion of the trial -- the first by military commission since the end of World War II -- U.S. prosecutors can move ahead with military trials for up to 80 Guantanamo Bay detainees, including those accused of planning the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One reason Hamdan, who even the military judge labeled "a small player," was tried first is so the system could be tested on him.
The military jury of five men and one woman found Hamdan guilty of supporting al-Qaeda by driving and guarding bin Laden and ferrying weapons for the terrorist group.
Hamdan, a Yemeni father of two, bowed his head and wiped his eyes with his white headdress as the verdict was read.
The judge, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, called it "an emotional moment" for Hamdan, who was later led back to his cell at the U.S. detention facility here, his home for the past six years.
President Bush first empowered the commissions after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reversing a tradition of trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts in an effort to seek swift and tough-minded military justice. The process had experienced legal, procedural and diplomatic delays.
Deputy defense counsel Michael Berrigan called the trial a "travesty" but said the defense team "is not at all unhappy with the results."
Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who attended the trial as one of several human rights observers, ridiculed the administration for inaugurating the military system on "a marginal figure."