Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S. Sends Bin Laden's Driver Home From Guantanamo

Salim Hamdan in an undated photo
MIAMI (Reuters) -- The United States sent Osama bin Laden's former driver home to Yemen from the Guantanamo prison camp to serve the last few weeks of his sentence for providing material support for terrorism, the Pentagon said.

Salim Hamdan was the first prisoner to be convicted in a full trial of the widely criticized tribunals set up by the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress to try non-Americans on terrorism charges outside the regular civilian and military courts at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The Pentagon confirmed in a statement that Hamdan had been transferred to Yemen but gave no further details.

In the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II, Hamdan was convicted in August of providing personal services in support of terrorism, specifically driving and guarding a man he knew to be the leader of Al-Qaeda.

But he was acquitted of more serious charges of conspiring with Al-Qaeda to wage deadly attacks.

Hamdan was sentenced to 66 months in prison but given credit for some of the time served at Guantanamo, so that his term was set to end by December 31. The Pentagon said the remaining weeks of his sentence would be served in Yemen.

Hamdan, who is about 40, acknowledged he was part of bin Laden's motor pool in Afghanistan but he said he took the job because he needed the $200 monthly salary and did not know or support his employer's aims.

The six U.S. military jurors who convicted Hamdan of providing material support for terrorism delivered a sentence that was far short of the 30 years prosecutors had sought.

The U.S. government had argued that it had the right to indefinitely detain Hamdan at Guantanamo as an "unlawful enemy combatant" even after his sentence expired but abandoned that stance by returning him to Yemen to finish his sentence.

About 100 of the 250 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo are from Yemen, which is bin Laden's ancestral home.

'Inadmissable' Evidence

The Guantanamo tribunals have been roundly condemned by human rights groups and U.S. constitutional scholars who argue that the tribunals were rigged to convict by allowing evidence obtained through coercion, hearsay, and torture and laws retroactively created long after the acts occurred.

"Mr. Hamdan stands convicted of a war crime that does not exist, and his conviction was obtained using evidence that would have been inadmissible in any other court in the Western Hemisphere," Hamdan's U.S. military lawyer, Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, told Reuters.

"Even a broken clock is right twice a day and no one should confuse the jury's informed decision as to Mr. Hamdan's sentence with actual justice. The only justice is that Mr. Hamdan, who is not and never has been a terrorist, is in Yemen with his wife and two little girls tonight," Mizer said.

Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 after the U.S. invasion that followed the September 11 attacks and sent to Guantanamo in May 2002. The judge gave him credit for time served since July 1, 2003, the day he was declared eligible for trial.

His status changed on that day from battlefield detainee to pretrial detention, the judge said.

In a sentencing hearing at Guantanamo, Hamdan apologized for any pain his services to Al-Qaeda caused its U.S. victims.

"I don't know what could be given or presented to these innocent people who were killed in the U.S.," he said through an interpreter. "I personally present my apologies to them if anything what I did have caused them pain."

Defense attorneys said Hamdan had no prior knowledge of Al-Qaeda plots and presented evidence that he cooperated with U.S. intelligence services after his capture in Afghanistan.