Posted on Wed, Aug. 13, 2008
By MIKE MELIA
The military jurors who gave Osama bin
Laden’s driver a light sentence want him
freed from Guantanamo once he completes
it in December and were frustrated to
learn the military can hold him indefinitely,
one of the panelists said Wednesday.
In an interview with The Associated Press,
the juror said the panel of six American
military officers did not learn until the trial
ended on Thursday that the Pentagon
retains the right to hold Salim Hamdan as
an “enemy combatant,” even after he
completes his sentence.
“After all the effort that we put in to get
somebody a fair trial … and then to say no
matter what we did it didn’t matter – I
don’t see that as a positive step,” the juror
said in the telephone interview. The juror
cannot be identified because the judge at
the first war-crimes trial since the end
of World War II declared the panelists’
identities must be kept secret.
The jury convicted Hamdan of supporting
terrorism but acquitted him of conspiracy.
His sentence of five and a half years, with
credit for some of his time served, means
he is eligible for release in December.
The Defense Department insists it has a
right to hold “enemy combatants” who are
considered to pose a threat to the United
States – even those cleared of charges or
given short sentences in the military
tribunals at Guantanamo.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey
Gordon, declined to comment specifically
on Hamdan’s case. “The Defense
Department continues to assess the
situation,” he said.
Military prosecutors had recommended a
sentence of 30 years to life in prison, but
the juror said the evidence did not support
their portrayal of Hamdan as a hardened
Some of the most compelling evidence
against that portrayal came in writing
from confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed, another Guantanamo
inmate, who dismissed Hamdan as a “nuts
and bolts guy … not a key player,” the juror
“I think it was generally our opinion that
(Hamdan) made some bad mistakes in his
life that led him down a path that turned
out to be a bad one. Once he was in it, I
don’t see that it was that easy to get out,”
the juror said.
Hamdan, a Yemeni with a fourth-grade
education, testified that he took the job
before he knew bin Laden was involved in
terrorism and stayed by his side because
he needed the US$200-a-month salary to
support his wife and two daughters.
In a closing statement, he also apologized
for the lives lost in al-Qaida’s attacks.
“The fact that he apologized, that didn’t
sound like al-Qaida to me,” the juror said.
Hamdan was the first prisoner to face trial
“If the first guy is getting a 30-year
sentence, what do you do for a real
hard-core criminal?” the juror said. “He
was just misled and the victim of
Military prosecutors plan trials for about
80 inmates, including Mohammed and four
other alleged plotters of the Sept. 11
The Pentagon has said that after Hamdan
completes his sentence, he will be eligible
for release through the same review
process as other detainees at this U.S. Navy
base in southeast Cuba.
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