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Laden's driver denies making oath

A former driver for Osama bin Laden denied that he had sworn a loyalty oath to the al-Qaeda leader, contradicting potentially damaging testimony of a Defense Department interrogator.

world Updated: Jul 31, 2008 20:57 IST

A former driver for Osama bin Laden denied that he had sworn a loyalty oath to the al-Qaeda leader, contradicting potentially damaging testimony of a Defense Department interrogator.

Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni, testified at his war crimes trial that the nine-hour interrogation focused almost entirely on whether he swore an Islamic oath, or "bayat," to his boss, but he refused to discuss the topic.

"I never talked to them about this issue," Hamdan yesterday told the judge through an Arabic interpreter. "I never pledged allegiance."

Judge Keith Allred, a Navy captain, is evaluating whether the May 2003 interrogation is tainted by coercion and therefore inadmissible as evidence at the first American war crimes trial since World War II. He said he would issue a ruling today morning.

If the judge allows the jury to hear testimony of Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Robert McFadden, it would contradict the defense lawyers' claim that Hamdan was merely a low-level bin Laden employee with no allegiance to al-Qaeda.

McFadden said he would testify that Hamdan acknowledged taking "an oath of allegiance to bin Laden and the cause, the cause being expelling Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula."

Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan in November 2001 with two surface-to-air missiles in the car. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

Allred, who has dismissed other statements Hamdan made under "coercive" conditions, said he would hold this interrogation to a high standard to penalize the government for delivering hundreds of pages of prison records after court-imposed deadlines.