Osama’s driver to be tried
Salim Hamdan is a small player with a big role.
A former driver for Osama bin Laden, he is about to become the first Guantanamo prisoner to be tried for war crimes in a major test of the US system for prosecuting alleged terrorists.
Hamdan is an unlikely candidate for the history books - a wiry Yemeni father of two with a fourth grade education who is not accused of a direct role in any terrorist attacks.
He is scheduled to go on trial Monday on charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism before a jury of military officers in a specially built courtroom at a former air strip at the US Navy base in Cuba. A judge in Washington refused yesterday to order a halt to the proceedings.
That means Hamdan, who earned about USD 200 a month as Bin Laden's driver will be the first defendant in a US military war crimes trial since World War II. His case will be watched around the world, the subject of inevitable debate and future legal challenges.
His Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Navy Lt Cmdr Brian Mizer, will argue that the US has zeroed in on too small a target in Hamdan.
"He is a driver and a mechanic, not a member of al-Qaida," Mizer said yesterday.
So far the US has charged 20 Guantanamo prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks. One Guantanamo detainee, David Hicks, accepted a plea bargain in 2007, served nine months and is now free in his native Australia.
Military prosecutors agree Hamdan is a relatively minor figure, but they say that as a driver he helped carry weapons that were used on the battlefields of Afghanistan and helped bin Laden evade retribution after the September 11 attacks.
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