Lawyer says Hamden not al-QaedaYemeni was bin Laden’s driver [Archives:2004/712/Local News]

February 16 2004

WASHINGTON ) A military defense lawyer assigned to defend one of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has said that his client was a driver for Osama bin Laden but was not a member of Al Qaeda or the Taliban – or guilty of any crime.
The lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, who represents Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 34-year-old Yemeni who may be one of the first to be put on trial before a military commission, said on Wednesday that he had met with his client over the last two weekends in a special holding area at Guantanamo.
“He freely admits that he was employed by Osama bin Laden,” Swift said. “His job was driving agricultural workers on bin Laden's farm and sometimes driving Osama himself.”
But Swift said: “He is not a member of Al Qaeda and not a member of the Taliban and is not a terrorist. He denies all of those things.”
Swift said Hamdan had been in Afghanistan trying to get to Tajikistan to fight against the government on behalf of Muslims.
When he could not get there, Hamdan found a job on bin Laden's property near Kandahar in Afghanistan. After the turmoil following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he borrowed a car to take his pregnant wife and daughter to safety in Pakistan.
Upon his return, Swift said, he was arrested by Afghan forces allied with the United States.
Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon said it would allow Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who is being detained as an enemy combatant in a navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, on suspicion of being a terrorist, access to his lawyers for the first time.