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Bin Laden's Driver Found Guilty Of Supporting Terror

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The verdict is out in the first of the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A jury of six military officers delivered a split decision in the case of Salim Hamdan, one of Osama bin Laden's drivers. The jury found Hamdan guilty of giving material aid to al-Qaida but not guilty of conspiracy charges. NPR's John McChesney is at Guantanamo and has this report.

JOHN McCHESNEY: The defense argued all along that Salim Hamdan had not played any part in planning the attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa, the U.S.S. Cole, or the World Trade Center; that he was a driver, not a planner. Apparently, the jury agreed.

The prosecution said he or someone he was associated with was going to kill coalition forces with him in Afghanistan. The judge instructed the jury that fighting back against coalition forces was not a war crime, but the jury did find Hamdan guilty of providing material support to al-Qaida, an international terrorist group, by attending military training, providing himself as a driver and a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

There were four counts under that charge, but the judge merged them into one count. The defense says the material support charge is not a war crime, and they intend to appeal.

The case has involved lengthy debates about the law of war and even when the war with al-Qaida began. Hamdan could be sentenced to life for the material support charge. The sentencing phase of this proceeding has begun. Only the defense will present witnesses. The prosecution was going to present an FBI agent who responded to 9/11, but the judge excluded him because Hamdan was not convicted of conspiring with al-Qaida to attack the World Trade Center.

Hamdan is expected to testify himself, but journalists have been told that his remarks will remain secret. Judge Keith Allred said Hamdan will get 61 months' credit for time served, but no matter what Hamdan's sentence is, he's still classified as an unlawful combatant and can be detained here indefinitely.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said today that the military commission here is a fair and appropriate legal process. The defense vigorously disagrees, saying that Hamdan was never advised of his rights, that he may have been subjected to mistreatment, and that much of the evidence in the case is secret.

The defense tried to put a positive spin on the outcome, saying that for a team that had been expected to strike out, they'd hit a triple, and the game is not over.

Colonel Lawrence Morris, chief prosecutor, said that the verdict shows that Hamdan was a career al-Qaida warrior. John McChesney, NPR News, Guantanamo Bay. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John McChesney
Since 1979 senior correspondent John McChesney has been with NPR, where he has served as national editor (responsible for domestic news) and senior foreign editor. Over the course of his career with NPR, McChesney covered a variety of beats and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. His reports can be heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, and newscasts.
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